In the Introduction to this project, I wrote about having the realization…
…that people whose names have almost been forgotten, or have been forgotten, were as real as I am in all respects…
If there’s one line, one phrase, that sums up my entire motivation to do this work, to gather in all this information, and take so much time and effort and life energy to make it available to others, so that these stories can live and be passed on, it is this idea. “People whose names have almost been forgotten, or have been forgotten, were as real as I am in all respects…”
As real as I am.
I’ve often wondered if, as our lives unfold, we don’t go through a very early period of more or less secretly believing that all of those around us – mother, father, siblings, neighbors, cousins – exist as actors in some sort of play for our benefit and our benefit alone. Then, as we add neurons and synaptic connections and gain experience, we move on to a stage where we somewhat grudgingly acknowledge that while others might be real, the time period in which we find our young selves is in fact the only time that has ever existed, that there is just the present, this present, and all pieces of evidence to the contrary, i.e. history, art, culture, language, are more or less elaborate fictions that have been thought up as embellishments to our current period. (A mentality not dissimilar to the way creationists explain away the fossil record as being placed in the ground by God, but I digress.) And then, in this “unfolding” of our consciousnesses, if we’re lucky, we enter a phase in our development, where we connect with the truth, not intellectually but viscerally, that we and every other person we know, have ever known, will ever know, are only the latest chapter of humanity’s broad narrative arc; the last few ticks of a clock whose hands have been circling for eons.
As I said, this is just something I’ve wondered. Perhaps a child psychologist, or a pediatric neurologist, would say all the above is hogwash. I have no idea. But when I think back on my own earliest days, it feels true.
As for the last phase, connecting with the reality of other people in other times, for me there was no one single “Aha!” moment; there were several.