A while ago I was having a conversation with one of my young friends in a bar. We had zeroed in on the difference between peoples' outlooks. I suddenly said, “There’s no reason why I’m stuck in this body. It seems really odd to me that I am. The fact is, I could have been born anybody.” He looked at me skeptically. “I could have been born you. And you me. I could have been born a woman instead of a man. Easily. The chances of that were just 50-50.”
And then a plain-looking, middle-aged woman, as old as his mother, walked in and past. I said, “I can easily imagine being her.”
He glanced over his shoulder. “Are you kidding?”
“Why not? There’s very little difference between her and I. Physically, we’re nearly identical. She has more of one hormone and I have more of another, and a few subsequent physical changes, that’s about all. Most of the difference is in outlook.” I looked down, trying to find the essence of the problem. “I think we just don’t want to imagine being each other. So that makes it seem impossible.”
But he couldn’t latch onto my idea that we could have been born other people. He assumed, even though I denied it, that I had to have been talking about a soul or spirit that might be reborn in a different body. But I’m not religious. And I think it’s highly unlikely such things exist.
Yet it’s undeniable that each body is somehow a person. Each body that’s born and achieves a certain age becomes a person. There’s somebody in there looking out. There’s a person in there. One very much like me. So my question remains: Why was I born in this particular body. Out of billions. I could just as well be an old Chinese guy in Beijing. Or a young Chinese guy. Or a slave in 1800‘s Georgia.
I guess each body begins to imagine. And then becomes someone. That must be the explanation, that we’re just bodies that imagine we’re not bodies but something else. Obviously, then, we can’t try out other bodies, as nearly identical as we are. We’re limited to using our imaginations. Which we call empathy.
But quite often I come back to it. And no matter how many times I mull it over, always arriving at the same obvious answer, it still seems weird that I’m stuck here. Astonishing even.
Now here’s an even weirder thing: Hardly anyone I mention this to knows what I’m talking about.
I have a new theory for that. I grew up as an outsider, on a small farm of shy people, me being one of the shyest. I knew about human beings but didn’t feel like I was one of them. I remember later having a revelation, a number of times, that I’m actually a part of a big society, not an alien, that I am a human just like they are. That I’m one of them. With them. But it was a long time before I clearly saw that there was very little difference between us, and especially that there was very little difference between our thoughts, between the selves we think we are.
And that I could just as well have been born any of them.
Yvonne Maggs and Katia Grubisic like this.
Yvonne Maggs Have often wondered why I am me and not someone else, just by some fluke, and here I am....
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Stan Burfield exactly
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Larry Burfield Interesting thinking!
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