Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mental gymnastics

Our bedtime story for tonight (geez, is it that late in the day already?) is called Lust for Life, or Starry Night, depending on whether we’re in a hedonistic or romantic mood. As you might predict, it’s about Vincent Willem Van Gogh—good biographical fiction. 

Not ‘Once upon a time’ but for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt a connection to that soul. I share his nationality, middle name, red beard (before mine went grey) and his socially inept manner. I savor his zest for being, his compassion for his fellow man, his overpowering creative drive, his simple tastes, his passion for life, and the way that he railed relentlessly against physical limits and limited means. I’ve read his letters (to his brother) and covered my walls with his prints. I’ve traced the history of his art and have amassed a library of books. I’ve even named my son after him. If I had been he, I couldn’t have lived a fuller life.

Maybe that’s an indication. Maybe I was once Vincent Van Gogh. Would it be so very far-fetched to imagine that he and I are one? Suppose that he is me reborn into this present body. As a thought experiment, where would that take us? 

We’d need to think along the lines of reincarnation; I don’t think you can avoid it. For the sake of argument—no, not ‘argument’; who wants to argue? So, for the sake of, oh, I don’t know, mental gymnastics?—let’s suppose that reincarnation is possible. After all, the greater fraction of the world does.

Do I have any evidence—not of reincarnation in general, but of this particular instance?

Well no, I don’t have any clear memories of being him. I haven’t gone through any déjà vu moments of mixing pigments or of attacking a canvas. I haven’t an unexplained taste for tobacco and absinthe. But that’s okay. The absence of hard evidence doesn’t rule out the possibility of a common ancestry.

Still, there are documented accounts of people recalling where treasure is hidden under the floorboards of a house of a previous life. It’s been mentioned in books. Urban legends abound, so let's allow that it has happened. It's just that where Vincent is concerned, I don’t possess that power of recall.

Since it's rare for people to have memories of their previous lives, reincarnation must involve rigorous brainwashing. Otherwise we’d all be confused about our identity. That would explain my inability to demonstrate a closer connection. The exception proves the rule, so there's hope for me and Vinnie yet.

Say that I’m right. How then to explain the period of time—a half century or so—from the day Vincent shot himself (thirty hours later, actually, and possibly by a teenager) to the day on which I was born? Does that pose a problem?

I can’t see that it would. For reincarnation to be the norm, it would be quite inconvenient for the next life to have to start the instant one shuffled off one’s previous life’s mortal coil. The bookkeeping system for that would beggar belief.

My point is: time ought not to be a problem for a god. God can cope, surely. We want God to be time’s master—I mean, who is in charge here? An all-powerful god must be able to run rings around any old sundial. For souls in a state of limbo in between lives, there must be some cosmic equivalent of a capsule hotel. The Milky Way Transit Lounge Cafeteria—I can picture Douglas Adams there.  

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