One thing I have grappled with for a long time- and my previous post will explain many of the reasons why- is the apparent dissimilarities between what I am in this life and what I know John was in his own time.
I suppose the different prejudices and sexual identity are easy enough to explain if you believe what the sages have been saying for thousands of years, that passions are tied to the body and we, as an entity, are without passion inherently. That does seem to bear this out.
But finding any common ground is tricky. I could just as easily keep grasping at straws with apparent similarities that may be coincidences, or ignore every small similarity until I miss something fundamental.
That gap in understanding between what I am in this life and what John was is part of the reason I will always have a kernel of doubt that I was this person in another life. But for the extent of the memories and the clues that lead to a positive match, I would have hung up the notion that we were ever the same person a long time ago.
That is, being the same person is the most simple and elegant explanation for sharing memories with a first world war British soldier shy of insanity and self-delusion. I will never be entirely free of those shadows of doubt either. It’s so easy to put together the pieces in a way that they fit favorably, and I’ve caught myself doing it more than a few times.
So who am I, and who was John Harris? How do we compare?
I am a US national, born and raised (but spent a good portion of my life on the Continent and in the UK). John was an Englishman through and through.
I am politically fairly progressive on most issues. I have no memory of John’s political affiliations.
I am transgender male to female and attracted to men. John was cisgender male and attracted to women.
I am an avid writer and a (currently small-time) novelist. John was likely literate based on the statistics of the time, but I have no memory of what extent that literacy extended to. I do not know of any diaries or letters by John but I would love to find one.
I did not join the military in the early 2000s in part because I was a conscientious objector. John was not a conscientious objector and very likely joined shortly after seeing a recruiting poster.
I grew up in the suburbs in southern urban sprawl; John grew up in a town with the countryside on his doorstep.
John was trained in rifle use; I was able to use a bolt-action rifle competently the first time I held one.
John was fascinated with aircraft, if my memories are any indication. I share that interest somewhat but am more interested in cars.
Our native language is English for both of us, and our upbringing was Protestant Christian in both lives, though the outcome of that upbringing is very different in my case.
Now I think you can all understand why I can never decide whether to use the first person or third person when talking about the memories I’ve had. It would seem, if my notion of being reincarnated holds any water, that I have been two people with very little in common with each other.
I find that much stranger than having too many things in common. It really makes me wonder what it is that defines us, or if the Buddhists were right and there is no permanent, immutable “self” that survives us life-to-life.
In other words, maybe we do die. Perhaps not to the extent that we might have thought, but undeniably, a part of who we are dies along with the body. Mortality is more complex than we imagined, but it is still mortality.