I think, in hindsight, I may have figured out what triggered me to recall past lives, and it’s not what I thought.
In 2011, my father (who knows I’m a big fan of the rock band Queen) got me a book written by Queen guitarist Brian May called “A Village Lost And Found,” because he knows how much of an Anglophile I’ve always been. The book is about how Brian’s hobby, collecting stereo slides from the 19th century, led him to track down a mysterious village pictured in a series of slides from the 1850s. It sat on my shelf for several months before I finally unwrapped it and looked at it.
This look at mid-19th century English village life may have helped me connect the dots and figure out why I felt so confused by the overall look of the villages I traveled to in the 2000s, looking for the one that felt like the right place but not sure what I was looking for. What I noticed in these books was that there were many familiar features- clothes drying on front lawns, different monuments and fences in a churchyard, pollarded willows, and very ragged edges between roads and roadsides- that are missing now from the clean, sanitized, highly-gentrified rows of thatched cottages and pristine pubs that make up the English countryside today. The feeling I got from it was such that I felt like I’d found the missing piece. It just looked right to me.
I don’t consider this to be cryptomnesia because what I saw first was not a village like East Coker, but the war itself and then memories going back to the beginnings of Yeovil’s suburban sprawl in a terrace of relatively-new houses in the stark but sufficient life of a Victorian semiskilled laborer’s son. We lived on a well-traveled road near a rail line and my father worked in a factory. There wasn’t a single thatched cottage in my initial round of memories, mostly just a life on the edge of reasonably well-developed towns, and discovering that he had lived in East Coker- a village I knew as soon as I saw it- was an astonishing surprise.
But maybe it was an indirect trigger, something that set off the same deep, repressed recollection within me that drove me to seek out this village in the New Forest, about fifty miles east of where I should have been and starting from a town- Lyndhurst- that was not much smaller than Yeovil. Finally seeing how these types of villages looked in the 19th century may have somehow jogged my memory enough that the important details of John’s life came back to me shortly after I looked at this book.
I can’t believe I hadn’t considered that this book may have done it for me. Odd to think that I may have Brian May to thank for remembering John’s life and all the rest of my past lives through more than just his music (which has also triggered memories), although I’m really not sure what he’d think of that!