I listen to Modest Mouse quite a bit, and the following line from their song “Never Ending Math Equation” has always struck a chord with me:
I’m the same as I was when I was 6 years old
And oh my God I feel so damn old
I don’t really feel anything
I’ve recently been struggling with the idea that any emotion I think I feel is somehow artificial or invented. More accurately, I often think to myself that whatever it is that I am feeling, I could just as easily be feeling any of these other emotions from some larger and more nebulous set. It’s as if there is a low level emotion track and a high level commentary track. I’ve always assumed that the low level track is that 6 year old ‘me’, and the high level track is all the finishing and learning and experience that I’ve been piling on since then. With that assumption, there’s been a corollary that the low level track is immutable and unchanging: I’m the same as I was when I was 6 years old.
When I was in seventh grade, I went with my mother to see ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in the theater. My mother had reservations about allowing me to see the film, because of the violence. (When it came to the language, she had no leg to stand on.) I convinced her, I think rightly so, to let me see the film. We went together, and while I’m sure I was slightly embarrassed to be there with my mom, I was never the kind of kid who was truly embarrassed of his parents. Within minutes, the film had started, the Normandy invasion had begun, and my mother had started to sob. She continued throughout almost the entire movie.
I never shed a tear. I wasn’t disturbed or upset by this, and I’m still not. I don’t think it was insensitive. I think it’s just the way it was. She wouldn’t ever say it, but I believe that it did upset my mother that I didn’t show some sort of sorrow over the whole affair. She told everyone who would listen the story of her sitting there sobbing and me sitting there attentive and unfazed.
Today, I watched the same movie again. I sobbed almost the entire time. I had the same cast of internal characters as usual. There was the low level emotional voice, terribly upset by the tragedy of this war and our current wars. Then there was the high level voice saying this was all relative and mutable.
I think I no longer subscribe to my old assumption. I don’t have any clear memory of what it was like to watch this movie for the first time. But I know I didn’t react to it like this. And I know that it was the low level emotional track that caused my reaction. This can only mean one thing: I’m not the same as I was when I was six years old.
How the rest of this shakes out, what is responsible for these inconsistent and incongruent dueling tracks, I do not know. But as a wise man told me, what matters more than knowing the answer is asking the question.