Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sympathy of Souls

Do you believe in reincarnation? I'm not sure how I feel. My romantic side immediately stakes it's territory, refusing to believe that life can simply end. It wants to believe that the people in my life are there because they are meant to be. Fated. Endlessly intertwined. Then my practical side rushes to the fore, wagging it's metaphorical finger and telling me not to be so silly. Death is an end. Period. My creative side, of course, thinks that the ability to reincarnate is so much more of an interesting choice.

At the risk of sounding overly fanciful and new-agey, I believe I have what, for a lack of better words, might be called a sympathy with different historical periods. I don't imagine I was a princess in a tower pining for a lost love, or a president's wife quietly ruling a country from a seemingly subservient role. (Why do people who believe they are reincarnated always assume that they were someone extraordinary in their past lives? For surely if I lived before, I came from peasant stock.)

But I don't know how to explain why music from the forties breaks my heart as if I was personally affected by the war. How picking up a long skirt so that I could run up a grand staircase without tripping seemed oddly familiar. How every time I visit the ocean, it feels like I've come home and yet I've never lived near water. Why the Claddagh ring is ridiculously important to me (I have some Irish background, but it's mixed in with Scottish, German and Russian and no doubt many others). Why hearing words like Old Bailey, or Ludgate, or Fleet Street make my blood race.

I call it a sympathy, because I just finished reading Mary Novik's Conceit (Random House). It's such an interesting novel. I didn't warm to it right away, but somehow somewhere in the middle, I realized that I was really enjoying it. It kind of gave me the comfortable feel of Pride and Prejudice meets Little Women. But what really stood out to me, and what I think makes this novel worth reading, regardless of what you think of the story itself (I preferred the secondary story of John Donne and Ann More to the trials and tribulations of the central Pegge), is the author's voice. She manages to write as if she is actually from 17-century England. I've read many plays from that time period, and if I didn't know from the flap that Novik is Canadian and still alive, I would have thought that this book was written back then. It's remarkable. Authors can do extensive research, but it doesn't mean they can pull that off.

As I was coming to the end, I read this passage:

..two lutes, being both strung and tuned to an equal pitch, and then one played upon, the other will, like an echo to a trumpet, warble a faint audible harmony in answer to the same tune, yet many will not believe there is any such thing as a sympathy of souls. (pg 346)

The author was talking about love, not reincarnation, but the phrase struck a chord. This sympathy of souls describes how I feel connected to a past that I never experienced. Is this reincarnation? Is this a scholar who has done too much study on a particular subject? Is this a woman who reads too many historical romances and uses sympathy with the past as an excuse for not fitting in to the present?


Beck said...

Of course life doesn't just end, of course we don't come from nothingness. Which is not to say that I believe in reincarnation - not at all - but I do believe in... oh, ancestral memory, the faint stirrings of the still-present ghosts of our long-gone people aching around in our bones.

kittenpie said...

That is interesting. I can totally see what you mean and had to laugh at your comments about people always thinking they were Marie Antoinette or someone when it's pretty damn unlikely. Me, I am content to think of life ending and living on in memory of the people who knew you, but I still do feel those weird connections you speak of at times, too.

ewe are here said...

Interesting... and I know what you mean about feeling sympathetic towards certain things that yhou have no reason to, really...

Mad said...

It's a line in Bull Durham, isn't it? When Crash says to Annie "How come in former lifetimes, everybody is someone famous? How come nobody ever says they were Joe Schmo?"

I don't believe in reincarnation but I do believe in deep physical/psychic ties to other times and/or places. The Amazon haunts my dreams.

womaninawindow said...

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and it boils down to this: energy can not be created nor can it be destroyed. In my mind it is transferred. We are transferring generations through our monotony. Nothing dies, it transmutates. My kneeding of bread is my grandmother's. My needing it full in my mouth is everyone's.

Tracey said...

I believe that EVERYthing is possible. Reincarnation, almost definitely. For what are we, other than energy and matter? And isn't all energy connected? Does it ever truly disappear or simply become something else? Are we not alive because of the deaths of others? Does the energy of plants and animals that we eat cease to exist or does it simply become a different form?

As my 9 year old has TOLD me: If the universe uses energy to form a new spirit and life, then wouldn't several spirits that are smushed together sometimes become a new life? (You might have to read my theory of explaining life and death to my kids to truly understand that one...)

crazymumma said...

i could totally see you galavanting the moors making come hither eyes at Blueheart and Heathcliff. Waving your Cladaghs all over the damned place.

(yes. i know they are rings, I am being sassy).

I sorta got some Halloween tyoe chills off of this one.

bren j. said...

I can't explain it either, but I do know how you feel. Being around old things or reading about them makes me feel almost...heartsick....weird.