My Lives

20 March 2007

Once, I was a foot-soldier in the armies of Persia. I recall a charge across a vast plain, my comrades in a mass stretching away to either side, while our enemy rushed towards us. I died in that battle, or one like it, but I had survived many before that. I died as I had lived, teeth bared, blade swinging.

Once, I was a simple rice-farmer on the flats of Siam, my health and wealth—my survival—dictated year-to-year by the weather, and by whatever tax my provincial lord chose to take.

Sometime after that, I recall a peaceful life as a monk of a Franciscan order. I tended the garden, scribed books onto fresh paper as they began to decay, read, and meditated. I think in that life I may have begun to know God.

Once, I climbed as high as Shogun, general over an army of fierce Samurai warriors, fighting the armies of the warlord of the neighbouring province. We fought for territory, for resources, for food, and for honour, and we fought well.

Once I was the elder of a small tribe in Northern America. I died as an old man, but my death was of the violent sort normally reserved for younger men; I died trying to protect the remnants of my tribe from the white men who wanted our land.

However, I struggle to muster much hatred against those men; once it was me, a Spanish Conquistador, plundering the riches of South America. It is hard to hate in others that which you have accepted as a part of yourself.

Of course, many of my lives were too short or miserable to be worth recounting here; I have been a poor, starving fisherman, a mean-spirited and lost ronin. I have been a bankrupt, gambling, merchant, and a criminal exiled from my country.

I have been field-labourer and peasant-farmer many times, and serf, servant and slave many more. I have been a gladiator, a prisoner-of-war, a child caught in someone else’s battle. I have been a king, and a beggar; a servant of the king, and a beggar-master.

I have been rich and poor, strong and weak, content and empty, loyal and lost. I have been good and evil, violent and meek, at peace and at war, victim and villain. Some lives I am proud of, others not.

Now I find myself here. The words to describe my vocation are new, invented to name things that did not exist fifty years ago. The trappings of my day-to-day life would seem entirely strange, even magical, to any of the other lives I have lived. My life is as comfortable and wealthy as that of only the royalty of most of this world’s history.

But one thing remains constant, one thing above all else: at the end of this life, I will die. I will die, having lived either a good life or a poor one. I pray that this life will be a good one.