A few weeks ago, my friend Grace asked me a question on our drive to Durham: “If you could dedicate time to something that you would have no memory of, would you do it? If yes, what would you do?” Immediately trying to look for the positive answer, I said yes. I told her I’d climb Mount Everest. In some ways, climbing Everest is something I’d really love to do, but in others…Surely, the experience would be so brutal that I wouldn’t regret blocking it out entirely.
Grace reasoned with me, challenging me to assess why Everest. What are the motivations behind overcoming such physical adversity? What’s the point if I don’t remember? If I wiped myself clean of that experience, after following through on it, why did I do it? (This devolved into an interesting conversation about memory loss and Alzheimer’s, although we didn’t come to a distinct conclusion.)
With that anecdote in mind, I’d like to draw your attention to Robert Frost’s poem “The Trial By Existence.” Found in his collection “A Boy’s Will,” “The Trial By Existence” explores a Swedenborgian precept: Operating under the Swedenborgian assumption that there is a paradise after death, would you choose to return to life, knowing that you would never remember paradise? Knowing that your motivation to survive was founded upon blind faith and acceptance?
Life compared to paradise in “The Trial By Existence” is like Everest compared to life in the first scenario. One is a challenge motivated by self-will, and the other is a decidedly less difficult route. Again, I don’t have any conclusions or criticisms, other than the fact that both seem to be inherently founded upon the concept of ‘motivation.’ I think the connection is interesting and thought-provoking, and I’d love to hear what other people think about these existential questions.