Three instances of being in the world

I am four or five years old and we have arrived at a campsite in southern France or possibly Spain. It is late July. I am looking at the incredibly bright night sky and ask my father which of those stars we came from. I am confusing our voyage over the English channel with intergalactic travel. I realise my mistake before he corrects me, but perhaps I am not wrong either.

I am nineteen and have taken LSD in my friend Guy’s house in Finsbury Park, north London. I am wearing a sleeveless woollen jumper that once belonged to my Taid, and am staring at myself in the mirror of a dresser that stands in the hall. I have just been to the bathroom and I stop by the dresser before rejoining the others in the front room. I stare in the mirror for a long time thinking: this is who you are. Somehow the fact that I am wearing this jumper seems significant and I feel close to my Taid and very much a part of my ancestry, the chance incumbent in a long line of ancestors. This has never occurred to me before. The earthy tones of the sweater; brown, amber, a hint of grey-green, appeal to me. Life feels like a priceless gift and I am wholly there for a moment, even though, looking into the mirror, I know there is darkness in there too. This is who I am, I think.

And in August this year, pausing on a peak above an undulating ridge in the Black Mountains, I am struck by the notion of looking out over a landscape as though it were an image in a book and peeling back the image before me from the top right hand corner to reveal another seemingly identical image, and then beginning to turn the pages and finding more and more iterations — each one minimally different and yet the same — and we inhabit one of them; and I begin to imagine the many worlds we might inhabit and the multiple lives we might, hypothetically, live, but as contingency dictates we are landed with one life, which takes place in whatever world it is that we have been allocated, and there comes to us one day the knowledge that we will eventually leave it behind, the knowledge that, as Rilke put it, we are offered this gift ‘Just once; no more. And we too, / just once. And never again.’

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