Bill Cutshall’s Weblog

November 21, 2008

Perceptions

Filed under: Things I am too Lazy to Categorize — billcutshall @ 1:18 pm

I talked about death over lunch today.  My friend had recently experienced a loss in the family and it gave us a chance to reflect on the nature of things.

Once you experience something, it is in the past and exists only in your memory.  It doesn’t directly affect you beyond that.  Depending on how much of an impression that experience made on your psyche, you may recall it two or three times or two or three hundred times.  In the abscence of other people to share an event with, that would be the extent of it’s effect.

If your friends care about the same things you do (and they do otherwise you wouldn’t hang out with them) you will relate your experiences to them and, depending on the number of friends you have, potentially double, triple, quadruple, or increase the effect by an even greater multiple.  In that way, friends help shape the impact certain events have on your life.

Even the most mundane events gain significance among a group.  Imagine that, while at the trendy corner coffee shop, the barista spills your morning coffee on the counter.  In the absence of friends to share this event with, you might forget about it by the time you pulled your car out of the parking lot.  If you tell the story to your friends at the office (or wherever it was you were heading) it becomes part of your shared reality and, in that sense, becomes more real than all the other things that happened to you that morning that you chose not to share.

When death removes your perspective and your consciousness from the world, all that is left behind are the ripples of shared experience you created with your friends.

Robert, an online acquaintance of mine died a month ago.  I had met him in person one time but had corresponded with him in an online forum for over 9 years so I feel it fair to call him a friend.  When I heard he had died (on the forum) I was shocked and saddened.  So were many of the other forum regulars.  Immediately we searched old forum posts for exchanges we remembered having with our friend.  We reminisced about his sense of humor, his quirky tastes, and his kind heart.  We visited his MySpace page and flipped through the pictures he had posted there in a kind of impromptu funeral.  Despite our limited contact with him, Robert was a very real friend to us.  The things he shared with us shaped our perception of him and ultimately, the things he left behind in his online accounts served as a mausoleum of sorts.

In the end, it isn’t what you do that shapes who you are.  It is what people believe of you and remember of you.  It is as true in death as it is in life.

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