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adult boredom children death hell life memory novelty

All Things New

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Aging takes place at a pace that makes so many changes imperceptible. When you are a child, every experience is new. You don’t crave novelty because novelty is all you’ve ever known. Nameless feelings well up within prompted by intense sensations. Plain bread is exciting. Primary colors are a thrill. You hear upper harmonics in the music your parents listen to, and it either irritates you or enthralls you, and you can’t understand why your parents don’t respond the same way. The front lawn is a vast landscape of adventure and possibility. You love to hear the same stories over and over, so much more often than adults are willing to tell them. All your senses are sharper than they will ever be, yet you lack the vocabulary and experience to appreciate their sharpness.

As you age, your senses become duller. You learn to appreciate complexity. You are no longer satisfied with plain bread. You want a range of flavors and textures in what you eat. You learn to appreciate art. The upper harmonics fade, and you keep telling your kids to turn the bass down. You travel and find the world more strange and wonderful than you had ever imagined. You get bored with the same stories and begin to crave novelty for its own sake. Your experience and vocabulary have grown, but you sense that you have lost something ineffable, something fleeting and good like a distant flash of lightning at the periphery of your vision.

Memories begin to crowd into your mind, distant and dim memories covered with a patina of re-imagining and reinterpretation. You become less sure of the formative experiences you’ve told and retold to friends and family, especially when a brother or sister contradicts what you vividly remember. You begin to long for something new, but every purportedly new experience, every supposedly new development, begins to feel like a recycled version of something you already know. You come to realize that as much as your memories define you, they also limit you, pulling you back inexorably into your own past.

You don’t want something new.

You want all things new.

You want to be a child again, to experience the world with wonder and awe, to be free from your own experience while retaining the wisdom you’ve gained from it.

The promise of eternal life, an unending consciousness piling up more and more memories and experiences, has come to seem truly dreadful to me. To live and live and live and be unable to die sounds more like hell than heaven. Of course, no living thing welcomes death, except as an escape from intolerable pain, so it’s hard to imagine relinquishing life as long as the pain of living is tolerable, and if we know anything of heaven, it is that it is tolerable. But a tolerable existence cannot last long, surely cannot last forever. Eternity wears down everything. Joy, excitement, delight, pleasure—all partake to some degree of newness, and eternity must surely drain the newness out of everything.

So God promises, “See, I am making all things new!” It is this promise that restores hope in an eternal life. The universe is vast. If there is adventure among the insects and blades of grass in the front lawn, then surely there are untold wonders throughout the universe. Perhaps we will live to see them.

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apocalypse computers hell memory struggle

Everything That Lives Must Struggle

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At first it was just numbers and addresses—things we used to write down on scraps of paper or in little black books. Then it was directions and names and faces. Our machines remembered as we forgot how to get from Saint Paul to Chicago and who we were with and why. Soon they told us who we were and what we liked and what we thought.

(And we trusted them because machines don’t lie; they merely malfunction.)

We loved living in the Now—carefree—without history or tradition or any aspiration beyond our own bodily comfort.

That was how the machines subjugated us, not by violence or revolution, but by giving us everything we want and making everything easier and easier and easiest until all we were or thought was stored in vast data warehouses accessible only to government entities by court order or to the corporations that collected us and owned us and could do with us whatever would increase their profits.

Only after this dull apocalypse did we discover that the place where the people are most complacent is Hell.

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lying memory

Bad Memory

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James Frey ( The Trouble With Memoirs — Jan. 23, 2006 — Page 1) appears to have lied in his memoirs. I think the publisher must bear some responsibility when he shopped his book first as fiction, then changed it to a memoir before it was published. I can just hear the publisher’s lackey telling him, “It’s a great book, but it’ll never sell as fiction. It would make a dynamite memoir though.” Maybe no one had to say it, but he appears to have gotten the message.

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