Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Tape Erases Itself


When you are in your twenties, even if you're confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later... later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches. It's a bit like the black box aeroplanes carry to record what happens in a crash. If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself. So if you do crash, it's obvious why you did; if you don't, then the log of your journey is much less clear.
 



Just minutes ago I finished an amazing book, and the above citation is taken from it.  
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes.
I think it is a work of genius. Of a genius, for sure But also, of genius.
And by that I mean it speaks to anyone who has ever seriously thought of what it means to be afforded just one life to live. Rather than review it -- I want to focus on the above passage, and pretty much every page is laced with similar thought-provoking philosophical musings for the thinking reader out there [which I know you all are!]

When we are young, it's a given that we pretty much already know everything.
But with each passing decade we learn [or should learn] that we really do not know diddly squat. 

I am about to turn fifty, and so let me say that it is only recently that I've begun to fully contemplate the reality of the fact that we only go through this thing [life] once. The assessment of victories and failures is not the only thing that begins to run through the mind and heart, and one thing emerges as the clearest of all -- and that is that memory has taken on a whole new meaning.
Retrospection becomes the key that can potentially unlock whether there will be any sense to our ending. To leave it [life] without too many regrets becomes of increasing importance.
When we are young, there is no time for such thinking because the conception is that everything is not only still possible, but has already happened.
Thing is, it hasn't.
Happened.
And the reality is that with each passing year [never mind decade] mistakes become ever more irreversible. Yet these struggles, the things we learn along the way, are the very stepping stones to life-maturity -- if we accept the tutelage of it all.

In his analogy of the "black box" Barnes said, "If nothing goes wrong, the tape erases itself" and that is true -- but it is only with age, with time, that one realizes the importance of the tape itself. The thing is, in most lives -- there have been too many times when the data from that black box has not been properly retrieved, or if so -- the information arrives too late in the game. Turned off before we hear it.
A life lived to its fullest is one in which more has been learned from mistakes than from successes. 

Crises are an essential part of life, of living -- and often they are meant to get us to rewind the tape, and listen closely to everything that has taken place. Good mingled with bad. The best ending one in which the headphones are never thrown from the ears. We can choose to not listen, but we will then suffer the consequences of never knowing why what happened, happened.
*****

5 comments:

Isabella Kratynski said...

I've been curious about this book, but now it seems I need to read this book. Feels lately like I'm rewinding the tape every day.

Anonymous said...

Barnes a genius? LOL! Have not read Amis' Information?

Anonymous said...

As if Amis is an authority?

Stefanie said...

Isn't this a wonderful book? I read it a year or two ago and really liked it. I found it a very thoughtful and thought-provoking book. It confirmed for me that Barnes is a top-notch writer.

Melwyk said...

I am always so fascinated by the workings of memory. And the brevity of life, and who we are if not our memories. I hadn't realized that these ideas were so much a part of this book, but since it has your stamp of approval I must get to it soon.