Last month my father’s life ended inside his Thirty Second Universe. At the age of 96 Dad’s dementia had reduced his short-term recall to half a minute. Within that time, a thought, a conversation, any decision was anchored in the world we lived in too. But beyond his memory edge where present events and exchanges of ideas evaporated into a gray abyss, his reality stopped and rebooted again for the next thirty seconds of his ever looping Here and Now. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
We take memory for granted until it leaves us. Without recollection of past events and conclusions, we can’t build upon what has gone before. We can’t expand the matrix. This is what a Thirty Second Universe is all about: relearning every experience as if it were new for the first time.
How would it be if we all lived there? Nothing beyond what already exists would get invented. Nothing would improve, unless Nature did it, because Nature never forgets. The same problems would have to be solved over and over again. Collections of information would be useless, because once read, that too would be forgotten and needed to be reviewed once more.
My father loved novels and in his later years he continued to read them, but only from moment to moment. As he turned to page 204 he had already forgotten page 203, and 202, and everything before that. He had no sense of continued story, only the present as he rediscovered each character with only a sliver of personalities confined to those five or six paragraphs his eyes were scanning. He couldn’t accumulate information and build on it. And hence, constructing a logical order of reasoning was beyond his reach, unless it happened within his Thirty Second Universe.
Can you imagine what it’s like to be leashed inside thirty seconds and realize it? My dad did and he coped somehow, with a great deal of help from Mom, our family and friends. We filled in the gaps because Dad had mentally deteriorated. It wasn’t his decision.
Would anyone intentionally limit their thinking to thirty seconds of memory? No. But we all lock ourselves within similar limits anyway, sometime debilitating. Many times debilitating.
Unless we’re mentally impaired, you and I have a choice about what we remember and learn. That’s FREEDOM, plain and simple. It’s our human right to think the way we want and know more and expand. Why would anyone choose to give up that freedom? We do though, by selectively narrowing our exposure to cultures different than ours, to new inventions, to contrasting ideas and to the insight that matures out of that. Why would anyone refuse to get bigger and better?
I ask Why, because in some respect, we all refuse to get bigger and better. We all draw limits as to how much new information we want to accept and how much of it we choose to remember. And we also decide in what way to remember it. Were those new ideas good for us or bad for us? Was that discussion comforting or threatening? Was the change reassuring or frightening?
These are opinions about survival and we ponder them everyday. Shall we stick to the tired and true or take a chance with a new route…or restaurant, or job challenge, or software upgrade? Can we trust current information or should we rely on the established gospel? Do we stick to the fundamentals, those words which should never be questioned or revised? Or do we question and revise?
Which policy works best?
Answering this question rarely resolves the debate because rarely is what-works-best taken into consideration. What motivates our actions and resistance is how we FEEL about things and how secure we are with change and differences. If change and difference is uncomfortable we’ll revert to clearly defined borders and rules about right and wrong, good and evil, Us and Them. We’ll rally around fundamental truths, or what we all agree are God-given, fundamental truths. Without needing to revise and expand, there’s no reason to seek more truth or other truths. Simply read the Good Book, the one our religion is using, finish it and start over.
Repeat, repeat, repeat.
And why not? Ethics and morality are intrinsic human values. It was all understood and written down many years ago in all the world’s religions. Sin is sin no matter when it’s committed, then or now. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing the right thing and knowing what God wants.
Or do we?
When the scriptures of the oldest religions were written, a conventional marriage was one of multiple wives, slavery was the norm and stoning a woman for adultery was encouraged. And don’t forget making war on the infidels. That never changed.
So who decides what’s right and wrong anymore? Is there really a one-size-fits-all moral code? Can the story of Humankind and God be relegated to one teaching?
No. Our world is not the same anywhere, anytime, or in agreement. Everything keeps changing and reinventing itself, despite our relentless struggle to lock in fundamental, forever-and-ever truths. There’s no natural Thirty Second Universe to read and reread.
Ultimately, everyone’s main purpose is the same: to survive in order to achieve our secondary purpose – doing what we want to do. We come into this world with a predisposition for survival. Somehow we all know what we want, even if it takes a lot of time figuring that out. Of course we need help figuring it out and we get it with food and shelter (if we’re fortunate) and with much advice about how to think. Some of us accept that advice and carry on the traditions. Some of us reject the Old Ways to search for new paths. Who conforms and who doesn’t is determined by our intrinsic personalities, by our unique way of perceiving the world. Have you wondered why you think the way you do? I have. I was born this way.
What way were YOU born? Have you tried expanding your boundaries? Or have you set limits? If so, why? And if you’re comfortable relying on a structured set of beliefs from a single source of philosophy, do you feel disadvantaged when competing with someone who has more or different information than you do?
You don’t? You’re secure in your faith and it helps you get through the day? Okay, I respect that. But please, respect my beliefs when they’re different than yours. Live and let live, as long as no one is harmed along the way. That’s me. But it’s not a perfect world and lots of people get harmed along the way. Beyond that, the definition of “harm” is in constant debate, which only divides us even more. So we watch the news that validates are predisposed opinions or we watch and listen to none of it. It feels safer inside a stable Thirty Second Universe.
Last month I watched Dad die in seven days. Those were my seven days. For Dad, it was a single cycle of reoccurring thirty seconds. And within those seconds, my father consistently asked me, “What’s happening to me? Why am I so sick? Will I get better?”
Sometimes I told him what I thought he wanted to hear. Sometimes I told him the truth. It didn’t matter what I said. He kept forgetting the reality of his very short future. Watching Dad grasp for life when I knew it would soon end was incredible painful for me. I felt I was betraying him by suggesting false hope. Now I know I did no harm. Dad eventually figured it out and remembered his conclusion, and whether he believed in Heaven or not, that didn’t matter either. If Heaven exists, he’s there. If it doesn’t, he’s not around to miss it.
Maybe that’s Life’s lesson: It doesn’t matter what we know or what we think we know. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. What matters, is that this Universe IS what it IS and it all changes from moment to moment whether we agree to that or not. We’re born, we live, we die.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. How many times do we have to be reminded we’re all eventually shutting down? Everything else is just stuff to do to fill in the time.