Last year, in celebration of our 9th (and 16th) anniversary, Adam and I went to see the movie Inception. We saw it, in fact, on our anniversary, in a movie theatre. We both enjoyed that movie to the extreme; and have even watched it a second time, since. We were both so affected by the content, the message, and basic the idea of the film that after the initial viewing, I remember we could hardly drive home – distracted as we were by thinking of and talking through the meaning of this movie. Processing continued the entire night: our interpretations, how we experienced it together, and… what that really means in the larger journey of life.
(A still from Inception - checking on reality)
Which is what this post about, sort of. I won’t give away the movie, in case you haven’t seen it (which, if you haven’t, what are you waiting for, seriously? Go buy it, rent it, whatever – just see it), but I will say, in general, it calls into question the idea of reality – individual and shared realities. Illusions. Dreams. Thoughts that you thought were your own. That maybe weren’t.
It asks us: how do we define our reality? Is reality what we see? Or, is it what we want to see? Or maybe, what others see or want us to see? Maybe even what we’ve been told we should be seeing?
I remember in a figure art class once, I had a professor who said no one’s interpretation of the figure in front of us was wrong, because we all see it differently. Every single one of us is actually. Seeing. A different. Thing. That even if we stood in the exact same place as that person, we’d just see it differently. Because what we see around us is based on our experiences, our memories, our current state of mind. Perhaps a figure model may appear voluptuous to an artist who comes from a family who trends towards lean and lank; while the very same model appears far too skinny to one who is familiar with a more hearty body type. She asked us if we thought five people could agree on how to describe the color of said model’s skin. Heck, even two people. It couldn’t be done. Because… how DO you describe color? Light, tone, shade --- all subjective; all individual. Yet, all of us looked at the figure, and drew her, and she was there - recognizable to us all on our myriad canvases as a human figure. A shared experience, and yet – each representation, each manifestation was different.
So I wonder sometimes about reality. As in – what is it? Is it really just what is happening as time passes – like a video camera? Or is it more of what I’m projecting on to my surroundings and then, how I’ve remembered those projections? Is someone above pulling the strings? Is our life a set path we’re just walking or stumbling down? Or am I creating the path as I walk it? And, can I create the path for someone walking it with me? Or do they see a different path, even in spite of my best intentions of making that path clear and defined?
It reminds me of parenting. Each of us as parents are living through raising our children sharing experiences – pregnancy, birth, feeding, diapering, sleeping (or lack thereof), and we all try to help and support one another, understand each other, and yet… even within these shared experiences, each of us choose (or perhaps were pushed) down different paths. And at the end of these paths – well, we all have a similar destination in mind: healthy, happy children. But our interpretations of how to get there, and what the path looks and feels like, varies so widely. What is right? What is… real? And is that really the right way? Is it what our babies are experiencing – the rightness that we feel? What ARE they experiencing? How can we tell when they can’t tell us? We try to interpret their cries – but even two parents sharing very similar parenting views can interpret a baby’s needs very differently. Because there is no standardized test for the tools and measurements we’re using to help us with our interpretations: our own experiences, our own memories of childhood, perhaps our mother’s or doctor’s or friend’s experience, all of these inputs make individualized changes and alterations to our tools. But do any of these tools really help us understand or experience what it is that our children are actually experiencing through our parenting?
I think of a time I’d been driving in the car with my children – them in the back, reading, singing, talking – basically blissfully unaware of my bad mood in the front (with the music on so they can’t hear me grumbling, and my sunglasses on so they can’t see me scowling). I asked them later about our drive and they said it was fun – of course it was, Mom. If you’d asked me, I’d have told you I had a lousy one. But we were all in that car together, right? I did feel lousy. They did feel good. So, which reality is real?
(My kids, experiencing their own realities... as I always follow behind with the camera)
Have you ever had an experience that has stayed with you? Something important – say a wedding. Or childbirth. You remember it so vividly. Details you swear are real. Yet, have you ever spoken those details to someone who was there with you, only to have them say, oh, really? I don’t remember that part at all. Or, even worse – no, it didn’t happen like that (it didn’t? It didn’t??).
It’s not really a comforting thought – these alternate realities: Shared realities. Realities altered by the way we remember them. Because if my own reality can’t be trusted, how real is it?
But then, I think over the going on seventeen years with Adam and the last going on seven years with our children and how I’ve experienced my reality of those years. I know I remember things the way I’ve decided to remember them. And maybe that involves changing my memories with time. Or, maybe my memories reflect the way things really happened. Really, that is, at least for me. I feel warm and comforted by those memories.
I like to believe – since we are still together and enjoying the experience of togetherness, and our children are growing and thriving, and continuing to amaze us, and expressing joy at being with us each day both in their here & now, and their memories – that Adam’s reality of our relationship and our children’s reality of our family are all similar. Or… at least that we’re all comfortable in our shared experiences, different as they may be. There is solace in that – our journey is a good, and happy, and peaceful one. Maybe the particular details of the paths we take – all of us humans, individuals, parents – don’t matter as much as we all like to believe.