Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"marvellously deceived"

When I think of my parents in the time before they became my parents, after they had made their decision but before their marriage had made it -- in those days -- irrevocable, they seem not only touching and helpless, marvellously deceived, but more attractive than at any later time. It is as if nothing was thwarted then and life still bloomed with possibilities, as if they enjoyed all sorts of power before they bent themselves towards each other. That can't be true, of course -- they must have been anxious already -- my mother must certainly have been anxious about being in her late twenties and unmarried. They must have known failure already, they may have turned to each other with reservations rather than the luxuriant optimism that I imagine. But I do imagine it, as we must all like to do, so we won't think that we were born out of affection that was always stingy, or an undertaking that was always half-hearted. I think that when they came and picked out the place where they would live for the rest of their lives, on the Maitland River just west of Wingham in Turnberry Township in the County of Huron, they were travelling in a car that ran well on dry roads on a bright spring day, and that they themselves were kind and handsome and healthy and trusting their luck.

-- Alice Munro, "Working for a Living", from The View From Castle Rock, p. 139-140

Alice Munro is one of my favorite authors, and I'm willing to try and go anywhere she takes me. It's strange to think about my parents before me, though -- actually, I can barely picture them together at all. They were separated when I was 4, and my earliest memories of them together were all arguments. Still, I like to imagine them both as attractive, clever, optimistic people -- which I think they still are -- and I guess I like to think of my existence as justifying their marriage, however flawed it must have been. That sounds like wishful thinking, I know -- of course they wouldn't have married, if they'd known about the break-up that was going to happen. No one gets married just for the kids who potentially might be born, right?

Still, I think there's part of my mind that can't quite believe in a world in which I didn't exist -- as self-centered as that sounds! -- and that has a hard time even contemplating all the various accidents and coincidences that led to where I am now, and that might have produced a completely different person given different circumstances. Maybe it's the same part of my mind that can't imagine that some day I'll be dead, or that there are people who don't care the slightest bit about double bass playing. Is that the ego, or maybe the superego? I'm not sure, but it's awfully good at blocking out all those uncomfortable realities.

I wonder if I could wrap my head around all this transience and coincidence, would that already make me a different person? Would it lead me take more chances, take myself less seriously, maybe even be somewhat less self-centered? I'm going to pretend that I never asked that question.

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