Sunday, April 24, 2011
4.23 Who Are "You"?
In the garden, I know that you live forever until you don’t, and forever may begin at any moment. In fact, it may have already started.
I wrote that two years ago. But who am “I” talking to? Who are “you”?
Substituting “you” for “me” is an interesting stylistic tendency of modern English that can probably be traced back to somewhere in the twentieth century. When we use it, we objectify (or distance) our feelings and experiences and name their subject “you.”
We report our mental, conscious life, our thought process, and we say, “you think things will change,” “so then you wonder,” “you can’t help wishing,” “you wish you could do it over” and a million other common locutions putting “you” in the driver’s seat when the consciousness behind the wheel of thought is clearly me, myself, and I.
So is the “you” the one who knows that you live forever? My thoughts will forever, is that what I mean? That the realm of time, in which human life is bounded, and the realm of human consciousness are not exactly identical?
It’s a bold idea to claim as one's own, so maybe that’s why I want to pawn it off on some unidentifiable “you.” But it if were my proposition, maybe this is what I would say in its behalf.
Proposition: We are living in forever. Not merely in the temporal dimension in which all things material come and go and slip away like the pages from the calendar.
Do I experience this transcendence of linear time in the garden – and believe others experience it too – because plants live in time, as we do, but also persist through a different sort of time?
In the garden there will always be oak trees, they will always leaf in May and de-leaf in autumn, bombard the earth with acorns, and sprout again in the spring. In some ages of the earth, conditions do not permit oak trees to grow here, but the earth will always be what it is – and not something else – because oak trees have grown on and under and above its surface. They have mediated the atmosphere, breathed in its carbon, shaded the rays of the sun, held down its soil, turned its richness into tree – woody trunk and branches, green photosynthesizing leaves, water-seeking roots.
In the garden native daylilies grow and disappear and come back again each spring. The same ones? A successor generation? We can consider the lilies, but it’s hard to consider an individual lily. The plant has a root, but that root expands, colonizes, produces new shoots, combines and mats with other roots. Do lilies have a common root? You have to cut them apart to make an individual for purposes of transplanting. Are plants “individuals” aside from the distinctions and divisions our way of seeing things imposes on them?
Plants give a new meaning to sameness and collectivity. Maybe there are genius lilies and oaks out there in the plant kingdom, painting masterpiece blooms and pioneering new strategies for spreading the seed, but what we experience is reliability, conformity to type, the predictable return of an old friend each spring.
We don’t mourn for the loss of the leaves in autumn, the drying and falling off of the flower and foliage from perennial, favorite plants, because they will be back again. They don’t grow old, not the way we do, and when a plant “dies,” we know they are replaceable because their existence is predictable. Truly it is, as the poet says, Margaret that we mourn for.
We will name a dog, but not a tree. All plants partake of plant-ness, nature. And nature is always here, it’s forever. If it’s not, we’re not, and then there’s no one left to consider all that is the case.
So in the garden we live forever, at least a little bit the way that plants do. We are always loosening the earth in spring, pulling weeds, picking up handfuls of last year’s brown leaves. Admiring new sprouts, exulting at fresh blossoms. We do as people have always done. And the world is what it is, and not something else, because we do it.
And “you”? You, perhaps, are simply something that knows. And you will still be here when we short-lived beings of flesh are no longer.