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He made me realize that a big step in mental development is recognizing that your life has a starting point. The notion doesn’t come to us naturally: for a good stretch of childhood it’s as ungraspable as death.
I can’t recall when I became aware of life going on before my birth. But if I try hard enough, I can remember what it was like to hear other people’s stories when I was four or five or six. History, biblical passages, stories of my parents’ meeting: they all took place in the same abstract elsewhere as Harold and the Purple Crayon. It didn’t feel like they’d really happened, since I had no mental images of their time and place.
Movies helped to fill the gaps of my imagination (they still do), giving shape to what I couldn’t see on my own. At some point, though, I had gone too far: I’d accumulated so many strange memories (through movies, books, and meeting people) that my origin became abstract again. It was no longer the sharp dividing line between my experience and everyone else’s.
Sleep might prepare us for death, but what prepared us for birth? Just thinking about it gives me a clammy, uneasy feeling, the same thing I get when I hear the Marianne Faithfull song “Like Being Born.” I think I’ll defer to Marianne here: she conveys this dread much better than I can.