Last night we went to a concert of breathtaking intensity. Every moment was a revelation, and these successive revelations piled one atop the other, in seemingly endless cascades. At some point I looked around at the faces of others in the audience. There was rapture everywhere. I saw smiles of recognition and delight, and some tears that I believe were tears of joy. Some listened with heads bowed, others moved unconsciously to the music, lost in old memories rediscovered.
And I realized at that moment that many of these people were coming to this concert with their entire life in tow. Some were hearing songs that they had adopted as personal anthems more than forty years ago. You could see the resonance of lives telescoping in the faces of listeners, of past and present fusing and coming majestically together.
And in this moment of intensity I understood a strange thing about human existence. We are all so unique, so particular, so very much ourselves – each unlike any other. My feeling of seeing the entire world from my head, of being the narrator of an unfolding universe, is your feeling as well – only in your case you are the narrator.
And so all of human reality is experienced from the point of view of these separate hard, shiny points of light, each one compact and tensely coiled. Identity is not at all spread out or diffused among us. There is no “half-way identity” between you and me. Everything is all or nothing – seen either through my pair of eyes or through yours.
Together we work to create a consensual illusion of a common vantage point – that is part of the process of socialization. But it is an illusion. In our essence we are like the tiny nuclei of atoms or the stars in the heavens. The core of each essential self is concentrated within a tiny speck of locality, whilst the distance separating us is inconceivably large – a vast empty liminal space between incandescent points of living light.
The reason we value our greatest poets, like the one who brought so much comfort to so many last night, is for the way they help us to create the illusion that there is something other than empty space within the vastness between us. We listen to their voices, and we do not feel alone.