TO THE MEMORY OF A VANISHING WORLD
Sometime in 1953, Carl and Emma Jung were preparing for dinner, and Carl was rummaging around to find a bottle of wine for the occasion. Finally he found just the right bottle, a forty-five year-old bottle of Bordeaux. But when they settled in and prepared for a toast with that vintage wine, Carl and Emma could not find words to capture their thoughts and feelings. Finally, Carl managed the very poignant toast with which I have entitled this blog, "to the memory of a vanishing world."
Dierdre Bair tells this story in her very thorough biography of Jung (Little, Brown and Company, 2003). In her account of the Jungs in 1953, Bair describes them as frail. Carl would have been seventy-eight at the time; Emma was seventy-one, but her health had seriously deteriorated with cancer as early as 1952. Neither had long to live, and already they had lost many of their closest friends.
The poignancy of that moment when they tipped their glasses with Carl's toast is not lost on many of us, especially those in the last half of our lives. Truth be known, actually by the time we reach the mid-point of life, say around age thirty-five, we have seen many worlds vanish. How can we not recognize at least some truth in the Buddhist idea of the impermanence of all things: all that rises falls away. So it is with our personal life, and so it is with our physical, social, family, and political worlds.
And yet, could we not say, that some "worlds" fall away more strikingly than others, depending upon the time and circumstances that frame a "world?" For example, consider how the technology of our present time makes everything appear to go faster. We don't simply want just any connection to the internet; we want the service that will connect us faster -- perhaps spontaneously! This technology today has so impacted our lives that we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to read the manuals supposedly describing how to power up the gadgets that then rule our lives.
The fact that I do not stay ahead of this wave of technological advances was brought home to me in a very dramatic way recently. I had just concluded a therapy session with a young woman who is chief finance officer with an investment group. She fumbled through her purse, obviously becoming more and more frustrated trying to locate her checkbook. Having finally located it, while writing the check she looked up at me and said, "You know, you really are archaic. You're the only person I write checks for anymore!"
I don't think she meant to say anything harmful or with a hostile intent. Her comment was simply a fact that came to her mind describing something very peculiar in her world. In her world, checks are obsolete, and people who conduct business dependent upon checking, well -- those people are "archaic." They belong to a vanishing world.
What she said is true -- at least part of it. I know I am not archaic, but I also realize that checks will soon be a thing of the past as more and more banking and financial exchanges are done online. In fact, even now the business of printing checks has taken a significant downturn.
So now it's e-books, Facebooks, twitters, smart phones, and i-Pads that do unbelievable things through their apps. And I have to confess that when I walk inside our local "Apple" store, I feel an excitement that is very hard to describe. It is, I believe, the thrill that we experience anytime we create something, or when we discover anything new that astonishes us.
To say this yet another way, I think it is the feeling that must have come to all explorers of unknown worlds. Imagine what it is like to step on the surface of a previously unexplored continent, or island, or object floating in space! Something in each of us delights in that adventure because, actually, it is an adventure of the spirit. Walter Isaacson quotes Steve Jobs' grand realization that the task of his Apple company was the creation of possibilities people had never dreamed of but which have the potential to evoke wonder and enhance life. Think, for example, of the ways in which i-Pads are making possible new ways of communicating for people with autism. Think of that new world coming into being as the old world vanishes.