I’ve got back into the “Dune” books and worlds of late. I first read “Dune” the summer after my senior year in high school, 1980. I was enthralled. I can remember sitting in a lawn chair on the beach where I grew up, at the water’s edge, while all my friends were playing in the water. I was reading a book on a beautiful summer day – not in the water. For me, that was something. No book took me like this one. It was given to me by a friend who thought I might like it. At the time in my life, it was the book and Science Fiction equivalent to what Kate Bush was to music (of all people). These books open imaginative worlds and futures unbounding. These books are examples of smart writing, IMHO.
Anyway, beyond the original trilogy, Frank Herbert wrote three more books. (The original “Dune” movie that came out in the 1980’s and the subsequent mini-series produced by the SciFi Channel only dealt with the first three books.) My parents got me the fourth book, “God Emperor of Dune” in 1981. I’ve started reading the book about four times and have never been able to get through the first part of it (I’ve owned it now for, what?, 27 years – my goodness). I think, now, that the reason for not being able to get into it is because it presents the main character (Leto II) as such a different type of character from the first three books. I think part of me doesn’t want the “magic” of the first three books to be spoiled.
So, on my drive home to Ohio for Thanksgiving I got the audiobook for “Paul of Dune,” one of a series of books by Frank Herbert’s son Brian, who has carried on the “Dune” universe and story. This book fills in gaps between Frank’s second and third books. It was actually quite good. I am now attempting to read again, “God Emperor of Dune.”
In all of these books, there is an incredible sense and connection with ancestry and tradition and bloodlines. For some characters, there is possible the possessed memories of all their ancestors. The lives and experiences of all ancestors continue on beyond their wisp of existence. The timeline in these books spans thousands of years.
These are interesting things, memories. Memories of an individual’s life and experiences that are shared and kept alive and those that are isolated and lost. Shared memories of an individual with others is a phenomena that carries connection and loyalty and love and companionship and a sense of belonging – “home,” perhaps. Not just memories that are told to another person – a cognitive understanding – but memories that are experienced together and become intrinsically part of the other, forever connecting the two or the few or the many. The individual – the personhood and the experiences – are kept alive and valuable by those who share in the life experience.
I suppose for most people, these kinds of connections and memories of experience are most poignantly realized through the process of growing up and growing old in families. In the family is the shared depository of the life experiences of people who are, ideally anyway, intricately bound. For my mother and father, for my grandmother, I am still the little baby crawling around as much as I am the 47 year old man. The life and experiences of the individual are kept alive through the experiential memories of the other family members far beyond the lifespan of the individual, beyond the lives of even the second generation. These are not incidental memories of experience based on just a few events or a few years, but experiences born of living together, coming to know one another intuitively, loving deeply the other person.
Companions in life and over the long run are very important. In the U.S., lifelong friends seem to be a rarity (as one gets older, anyway). I know only a few people who are still in continuing and regular relationship with childhood friends. It is a wonderful thing. Companions don’t have to be lovers, but it seems that only the beloved tethered together by love and committment tend to be for the long term. The value of someone else knowing you so well, so intimately, that they can easily guess your next move or finish your thought, yet they continue to accept and love and look out for you – the value of such relationships through good times and bad is nearly indescribable.
For single people, like I am now, so much of the lived experience of life is lost because life is not lived with another – so many of my experiential memories die with me. I know this sounds morbid, but it is the truth. There are lots of people who will have memories of me (or any single person) and incidents that we have shared, and those memories are not unimportant, but not the same. Friendships are essential to healthy living, I think. Friendships in many situations are better and more meaningful relationships than those shared with a spouse, but they are still not the same as with a life companion and a generally healthy family. The loyalty, the commitment to the other person is still not the same between friends as with a life companion.
Even with my family, we life such different lives now (and for the past 20 plus years) that we really continue on upon the back of our experiences growing up together. Large swaths of my life are simply unknown to them in an experiential way. No shared memories, these experiences of my life lost to them, and theirs to me. But, they have their own families and their family experiences live on in children and grandchildren.
Companionship is an important thing. Some are more prone to wanting such a thing as are others. I suspect there truly are loners, but I don’t know. To love and be loved, to know and be known are very compelling and I think intuitive needs and desires for most healthy people.
For me, these are poignant arguments for recognizing gay marriages, and perhaps the most base desire for it among gay people – in the same way straight people readily experience the normality and expectation of such things. Life long companionship – to love and be loved, to know and be known.
So, no life companion. As some point in life, being stuck in one’s ways makes the intermingling of lives more difficult. Melding lives together into one isn’t so easy. Yet, most of us do long for such a thing. I certainly do. When life is over, what of our lives continues on? What intimate, experiential memories survive in other people? Are those memories just of incidents shared, or are those memories deep, intrinsic, essential to another person?
This is what I miss most when singleness is concerned, particularly when singleness is not my choice. I regret the memories of experiences and feelings lost and that will be lost of my life – and the life of another with me. This is real life that is faced and dealt with. I’m not depressed (okay, perhaps a slight bit of melancholy or longing), but just recognizing the importance of living life with others and what is lost when not.
Well, Dune awaits.