It was my sixth session with my psychologist. In previous sessions we’d been through a lot – experiences with being tormented, emotional control coping with longer-term unpleasant situations. This was a lighter session, and at some point I was asked, why is there an angel on your arm?
It was a sensible question. I am, after all, an atheist. So I explained it was Daedalus on my forearm, rising to try to catch Icarus on my upper arm who was falling from the sun, and I went on to explain why I have that as a tattoo: sure, Icarus fell, but perhaps while he was falling (within the mythology of the event), he might have at least once thought, I got closer to the sun than anyone else.
In hindsight I should have seen it coming, but the follow-up question was a cracker: what’s your sun?
If Icarus and Daedalus are a reminder to me to take risks from time to time and metaphorically fly close to the sun, what is my sun?
I used to be driven by the thought of financial success. I had visions that by the time I was 40 I’d be on a salary of at least a quarter of a million dollars. Small dreams compared to some, I’ll grant, but I had that as a salary in mind of solid financial comfort.
And it would be more comfortable than my current salary, which has effectively remained stagnant across two jobs and 8 years, but at some point it stopped being a measure of how successful I was. It probably started around the time we pulled ourselves out of a destructive keeping up with the Joneses cycle with our then best-friends.
This having more approach to measuring success, to measuring life, just doesn’t cut it for me. We used to daydream of our retirement – by which stage, we’d have built up a veritable library of books which would occupy at least one, if not two rooms, and we’d be able to sit in comfortable armchairs and let the world go by as we read tome after tome. Before we moved to Melbourne we had built up 6 main bookshelves, often double-stacked, and a couple of other smaller bookshelves.
We halved that count to move to Melbourne and yet the book boxes still occupied almost half of what we brought with us. We’ve probably decreased by a third again the number of books we have since that point, and both of us intend to further cull.
The physical has been replaced by the ephemeral. Where we once dreamed of being surrounded by books, we’re now highly content that we own electronic devices that can store more books than we can possibly hope to read in our remaining years. If we go on a holiday we can take twenty or thirty books with us at once without even batting an eyelid.
The physical to eBook transition is a bit like the transition of my sun. What had once been about financial and material success has also evolved into something ephemeral, and it all it required was a dash of maturity and a hearty sprinkle of atheism.
My sun is memories – both accumulating and giving. Accumulating, because I want to be able to look back on my life at any point and be content that while there’s good and bad memories, the good ones made it worthwhile. Giving, because once I’m gone I will remain only in the memories of others. I don’t believe in an afterlife, no matter how wishful thinking I might get, and so I can’t plan for what that might be like. I can only hope that what I leave behind in the memories people have of me are genuine, and on the whole, good.