When our memories meet our imagination
I envy those who can live in the present. I heard that some people can, through the practice of deep breathing and meditation, free themselves from their past, and not worry about the future. And that some devoted practitioners can even overcome gravity and levitate. Meanwhile, at my study, in Marquette, I seldom live in the present. Instead, my mind constantly shift between the my memories and my imagination.
The other day, I imagined myself joining a tribe of hunters and gatherers. It was all pure imagination, of course, as wild and remote from reality as I could reach. I was dressed in khaki, wearing a wide brim hat, and carrying a notebook and a short, sharp pencil. I suppose I was an anthropologist and that it all took place somewhere in Africa. I was walking behind Xeno. He was a hunter. We were tracking a giraffe. We traveled the land in total silence, among the bushes. He was agile and moved gracefully, keeping his head below the tops of the bushes. I followed in his footsteps. I tried to imitate the way he moved, but Xeno who had observed tigers for hours, had developed a mastery I could not even start to comprehend. His was the art of silence and invisibility, and of surprise attacks, and effective blows. He was one with nature. I followed him and took notes.
Xeno aimed at the giraffe and drew his bow. He took a deep breath and focused his eyes. The discharged arrow split the air with a whooshing sound. It traveled fast with determination and energy. In the last split of a second, the giraffe raised its neck, then its head, and turned its gaze and ears toward the incoming arrow and toward us, but as the arrow hit it, splitting the chest and penetrating the heart, it took a step forward, then backward, it spread its front legs trying to regain its balance, it wobbled a bit, then leaned on its side like a capsized ship, and collapsed with a loud thump leaving a cloud of dust.
The giraffe was big enough to feed the whole tribe for several days. That evening, sitting around the fire with food in their bellies, the tribe looked happy. I thought that they would celebrate Xeno’s achievement and praise him. Instead, they were mocking him. “Only one giraffe,” they told him, clicking their tongues and waving their hands, “and so small, as short as a wild boar, as slow as a snail. A village kid could have done better.”
I thought they will thank Xeno. Instead, they all gathered around an old, club-footed, blind man, their fists up in the air, in a rite of celebration. “He is the one making the arrows,” Xeno told me in admiration. “He gives the arrows the speed of the wind, the strength of a roaring lion. He dips the arrow tips in a blessed poison.”
I thought they will praise Xeno, but after a short gathering around the arrow-maker, they all kneeled in front of the Shaman. They held hands and prayed. And thanked the Shaman from the bottom of their heart. “The Shaman blesses the arrows and plants courage in the hearts of hunters,” Xeno told me, “No shaman, no blessing of the spirits, no giraffes!”
That story was the fruit of my imagination. I asked myself, Who should one give thanks to? The hunter, the arrow-maker, or he who holds the key to a world of faith and spirituality?
And my mind immediately shifted from a world of imagination to the world of my own experiences, to my memories. I remembered the first time I used a ureteroscope to extract a kidney stone from a patient. I remembered the pride I felt in doing so. But what good was I without the work of men and women who perfected the tools I was using–the engineers who created miniaturized, minimally-invasive surgical instruments; those who understood and experimented with laser energy; those who designed the sharpest of cameras with which I could peek into the body with outstanding clarity. And aren’t we all–doctors, engineers, scientists–a part of a wider, deeper wisdom accrued by generations of thinkers, observers, and those who dared to experiment and fail?
Who should one give thanks to? The doctor, the engineer, or the many fathers of scientific wisdom?
My mind constantly shifts between my memories and my imagination. My imagination seems wild at first, but, within it, I find familiar patterns I recognize from my memories. And only rarely do I live in the present, mostly when I am working in the operating room, or writing. Then, again, I remember; I imagine.
Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Aspirus and the author of “Is Life Too Long? Essays about Life, Death and Other Trivial Matters.” Contact him at email@example.com.