I’ve made so much of the time I seem to have accounted for (a significant stretch of time from about 1877 to the present), but I haven’t really explored what I don’t know so much.
I have some memories of a life before John’s, and I’ve extrapolated (based on memories of being a young adult around the 1830s) that this particular life may have started around the 1810s. This fits neatly within the expected time frame for a life in the 1770s (of which I have vague and unreliable memories). If I extrapolate a birth date of around 1750 (based on the approximate average of 40-60 years for each life), that’s a large swath of time accounted for.
However, when it comes to anything between 1226 and 1750, I’m clueless. This is frustrating to say the least because that period in world history was probably one of the most significant (though often among the most tragic) eras in the age of humanity. It marked the normalization of contact between East and West, the turbulent European colonization of the Americas, the Black Death, the rise of Modernity, the colonization of Australia, and the rise and fall of so many empires, nations, peoples, religions, and ideas.
It begs important questions of not only where I was, but who I was. Was I a genocidal bastard? A pioneer abolitionist? A poor farmer somewhere in Southeast Asia, far from Western eyes? A monkey at the temple of Hanuman? A fox somewhere else, living out my own version of the Wild Fox Koan through five hundred lifetimes as a marginal animal?
Or perhaps I was a tree or some kind of longevial deep-sea mollusk somewhere the whole time, oblivious to the passage of the years until nearly five and a quarter centuries had passed? If I’d been rooted to the ground or to the sea floor, I don’t suppose I’d have much to remember even if I somehow could express some sort of extrasensory consciousness. It would be a terribly dull existence in which not a lot actually happened and there’s probably a reason I don’t remember it, though I won’t discount offhand the possible lessons learned from sitting in one place for five centuries.
I’d like to think I was human for at least some of that time, though. Perhaps it’s just my bias toward familiar forms. I’ve often wondered if I was, for instance, John Dowland or Dante Alighieri but more than likely I was a “hoary-headed swain” more than a few times.
Then there’s the oldest apparent memory I have, the only one where I was clearly and unambiguously a human female, plump and cinnamon-skinned and wearing little more than a pair of twine sandals many thousands of years ago in some nameless jungle. I still don’t know if I trust that memory (or any of the others, for that matter), but if that’s my first life then it opens up even more questions as to where I’ve been before or since.
It seems like an achievement to remember so many past lives, but it’s humbling to remember that I am unlikely to remember them all in this lifetime or, perhaps, ever.