I was looking at a photograph earlier this evening and started thinking about existence. The photograph was taken in the summer of 2008, in or near Sai Kung Country Park in Hong Kong. Among those in the photo were my aunt, my wife, and myself.
My aunt passed away earlier this year. Her body, and perhaps her consciousness, no longer exist, but in my memory and imagination I can see her face, I can hear her speaking to me, and I can feel her touch. Does this mean that she still exists? I suppose that depends on how we define existence.
If I wanted to, I could completely recreate my aunt in my mind. But would it still be her? Or would it just be what I think she should be? Would she be considered existing?
When I am with my wife and we are happy together, I sometimes ask the question “why do we have to die and be apart someday?” It just seems like a cruel joke to bring people together, make them love each other, care for each other, and then break them apart at the end. People say that we should treasure the people around us, and the moments that they share with us. I wonder how much of a difference that makes, because it doesn’t make saying goodbye, or the prospect of saying goodbye, any easier. In the end, we all die.
I can still feel the warmth of the sun on that hot and humid summer day in the park. I see the giant ants crawling along the sidewalk. I feel my impatience at being out in the heat and not in the air conditioned saloon of my uncle’s van. Maybe that’s all existence is, just a collection of brain cells that can replay a memory over and over again. When the last memory of something fades, then that something stops existing, and it is as if it never existed. Not a very funny joke at all.