somewhere in a former life

IMG_2462POSTCARD #174: Geneva, Switzerland: People, hovering around the exit door on the 18 tram to Carouge, faces look at me incidentally, I sometimes see one I think I know from times gone by in the metallic click over smooth rail joints, and the gentle jigging motion of the tram as it is now, and so it was then, travelling under an assumed identity, peripatetic teacher of English, here and there on trams every day, passing through security, a practiced conversationalist, and into rooms in banks behind closed and thickly felted huge metal soundproofed doors, gold taps in old bathrooms. Are these the same francophone faces now? Not those emerging from soundproofed rooms and stepping into their black tinted screen limos with drivers holding the door, no, just the ordinary folk you see every day now and then but never talk to, maybe a passing gesture, a nod of recognition?

Now I’m back here nearly two decades later. Do I see those same individuals looking at me with a nod of recognition held in a moment paused, seeing me looking at them in the same kind of way… a hesitation almost: hmm, est-ce que je vous connais monsieur ? (do I know you sir?) Look into these eyes for a penetrating instant with the flickering expectation of acquaintanceship… and in the midst of finding maybe I can’t quite recall what it is exactly, realise with some shock that it’s the awareness of – what is it? The nearness of death? Is this what I see looking back at me? Death, the answer to that question about what didn’t happen here? The past tense disappeared; everything I did in the 8 years I lived here was/is unfinished, and cannot and will not ever continue. It died?

I was in a life here. Now I come back from the dead, the Ghost of Christmas Present, not to ungracefully haunt all these innocent bystanders with more foreign talk and raconteur. Not to upset these slightly-known people with faces turned toward me, stepping onto or getting down from the 18 tram to Carouge two decades ago, and even now turned to glance at me a second time with their elegance of wispy threads of golden hair combed carefully over a bronzed skull with large dark brown skin spots, vapourised and paperised faces, traces of soft skin held nicely like curtain folds at the corners, beneath which these old eyes look out like an unfinished sentence… Je m’excuse mesdames et messieurs, I’m not here to disturb you with things that never took place, but to close those thick soundproofed doors that seem to swing open by themselves somewhere in a former life.

Thus there’s always something about the question that’s gently pondered, not posed, but poised, considered…it has to be the right question, forever not quite decided upon; what might it be? The moment spent in contemplation of what form this sort of thing could possibly take is enough to begin to know it… or it begins to be known. A kind of indirect position so carefully arranged; or maybe it was like that as it fell into place, who can tell? Induced then deduced. Words don’t hold meaning for very long, the question gets forgotten about in the end (they usually do), or possibly it’s still there in the detached state, just not functioning as a specific inquiry now, more like a wide-openness that’s waiting for an answer in the same way as there are answers, lying in their own wide-openness waiting to be discovered. A kind of non-verbal alertness, a strange familiarity, a passing recognition that seems to go on opening and opening, and opening; déjà vu revisited. It was always here….

But if, transcending petty ego, all the world is known as life – as only living energy – then how can death arise at all? For one who knows the world like this, as only life, there is no death. In truth, there’s only deathlessness. [Upanishads]


Photo: Watching the sun setting from the room on the 8th floor of the building at Pont-d’Arve, near Carouge


12 thoughts on “somewhere in a former life

  1. I increasingly find myself imagining I recognise people I come across. I thought it was probably partly due to fading eyesight but I guess that’s a kind of anticipation of death too. The world appearing to fade and blur when it’s me who is actually dissolving as I slip away into the past.

    Often I find myself looking at someone in their 20s or 30s thinking they might be an old friend only to realise that friend would now be well into middle age. Or dead. Sometimes I go on to wonder if I’m looking at the offspring of someone I once knew. I’d probably get even more confused if I believed in ghosts.

    • You can never be certain if that person you see is someone who’d passed you by on the road leading to the station years ago, or if you’re imagining it. Incidental encounters are like that. Let’s leave ghosts out of it? Sometimes you’re almost convinced – so much depends on getting the acknowledgment from the other person but you’re running the risk, of course, of trying pick him/her up etc.

      Aging faces, yes I’ve seen a few here (and I know for sure they are who I think they are), a hardening I suppose, the soft facial lines of youth are gone. The children of those met in incidental encounters, or even people you really know and went to school with? Maybe they are who you think they are but weren’t sure enough to ask or maybe there are subtle variations of anthropological types, similarities occur because of the limitations of the human body design?

    • Ah! then you must know how they’ve organised things like clockwork – you can go away for a decade or two and come back and it’s the same; still running on the same mechanism, upgrades included, it hasn’t missed a beat. It has the feeling you can measure the scale of your life next to it…

      • I haven’t been back for two decades – since life delivered me to Australia. But that clockwork mechanism … self-winding … impressive yet scary … yes, I guess it’s the default setting. And it seems impervious to change.
        Still … I love that little country deeply. Such genius and beauty, order and civic cohesion. (Apparently!)

      • Amazing really, maybe it comes from hard times living with the mountains, weather conditions, planning ahead for unforseen eventualities, then getting really good at doing that because it’s a small country and happily choosing to be independent from its neighbours must be part of the planning too…

  2. I concluded by your words that seeing familiar stranger just reaffirms that we are all connected. I don’t live far from where I grew up so I see a lot of familiar faces, but the thing is some of the faces are much too young to be old buddies of mine. Probably sons and daughters.

    • We are all connected, to the extent that the familiarity extends in a curious way via aspects of facial characteristics, behaviour, and we find a deep connection with strangers too

    • Hey Jude!
      This is like the past revisited, haven’t heard from you for a long time. It was strange in Geneva and cold and wet and anonymous. I lived there eight years. This visit was a time to bury the past maybe…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.