Remembering Who We Used to Be

I’m currently in Washington, D.C. visiting friends and it feels surreal. I went to university here and am visiting my old stomping grounds. I half expect to run into my younger self on the street because the memories are so visceral. The ghost of young me is present in a way she hasn’t been on previous trips. Maybe it’s because my college friends and I are approaching 20 years of friendship, or because they all have kids of their own and I’m recognizing how much things have changed. Whatever it is, I’m acutely aware of something my spiritual teacher says.

“A 5-year-old child is transformed in due course into a 15-year-old boy,” he said. “In 10 years, the child becomes the boy. Thereafter, you will never be able to find the body of the 5-year-old child. So the child’s body has certainly died.” He then mentions the boy growing into a man, then hitting middle age, then old age, until he finally dies and says, “The rest of the changes we do not call death; but in fact, all the changes qualify as death.”

string of photos

We have snapshots of our past selves but nothing more. Photo by Raj Rana on Unsplash

We don’t recognize them as such but all the changes we go through are a sort of death. We can’t find the people we used to be except in memory and that’s what I’m getting in touch with on this trip. I’m not the person I was and neither are my friends, but we all remember each other when we were 18. We tell stories about our past selves, the shenanigans we got up to, how we met, who dated whom, and what happened when.

It’s fun to reminisce but it truly feels like we’re talking about people that are dead, just like my spiritual teacher says. None of us are the same as we were. A part of me wants to go back in time to those college days when my friends lived within walking distance. I want to travel in a pack to coffee shops and restaurants, where we took over large tables and other patrons gave us the side eye for being so animated. These days my friends don’t all live within walking distance. And when we travel in a pack it’s because there are multiple children in tow, not because we’re a group of 10 going out for dinner.

To quote my spiritual teacher again, “This expressed universe is nothing but a collection of temporary entities which are undergoing constant metamorphosis according to the sweet will of nature.” We are all temporary entities and we are all constantly changing. Nothing stays the same. Nothing. I have some sadness about that and at the same time as I wind down this trip, I’m enjoying my stay, remembering who I was and how I felt. I’m appreciating that I do have 20 years of friendship under my belt and for a short time at least, I can say hello to 18-year-old Rebekah.   

I dream of a world where we recognize we are all temporary entities undergoing constant change. A world where we understand that as we age, our past selves no longer exist. A world where we remember who we used to be and take the time to grieve for those small deaths while also appreciating who we are now.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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