The Death of the Pastoral Cyclist

I have been cycling for hours, pedalling my way across the countryside since early dawn. The sun has long since arced the sky. The evening shadows grow longer.

The scenery passes by in a continuous array of colour. Beautiful vistas where the road turns, overlooking spacious, lush valleys. Country cottages. Imposing, sharply manicured farm houses. Old, overgrown barnyards and stone ruins covered in vines. Rolling hills of corn and soy.

I continue pedalling. On and on.

With every panorama, quaint family farm, and picturesque acreage that I pass, a sobering thought swells in my mind: how many other scenic moments have I already experienced and forgotten today since my departure? Now, so many hours into my journey, all that remains of those previous farms, fields, and arrestingly beautiful sceneries are but flickers in my mind. Today’s journey is jarring and fragmented. Incomplete. I can only faintly remember a handful of scenes; a couple isolated snippets retained from hours of riding.

As much as I enjoy the view at this moment, how long will the image and memory remain with me? What percentage of what I have seen do I remember now?

And then it strikes me: I am dead. No, I am alive right now; at this very second I am looking at a century-old paddock, rows of trees in an orchard, and a hoof worn path through a field of grazing cattle. Oh yes, I am alive, but the ‘me’ who has spent the whole day seeing and forgetting visions of this rural landscape is long gone. His memory is lost. The vast majority of what he saw and thought has been buried and erased. He is as distant to the present as the occupant of an ancient tomb; I do not know him because I cannot remember him. The moments I lived two, four, or six hours ago are gone and the person I was in those moments is now, in essence, dead. My earlier self now has no memory, no feelings, no consciousness.

While living, I occasionally find myself rolling along these agrarian side roads. I have arrived at this moment and behold this present view because of choices and situations I cannot precisely recount, and after a journey I cannot fully recall. Whether or not I will remember this millisecond for any duration is unknown, and unlikely.

Therefore, I am not moving towards death as if death is only confined to the journey’s end. Death does not only approach from the bow; as I travel I am leaving a trail of death to the stern. Every moment I have forgotten — from the last collapsed barn, to what I was seeing, doing, thinking, and feeling on Tuesday afternoon exactly 3 weeks ago — is a death of their own. In fact, the person I was as I began to write these words is wholly inaccessible now, only to be known again through retrospective conjecture. Death is no stranger or surprise to those who realize they have already died a hundred million times over.

One day, when the time comes that I must forget all things, the thread of memories that stitches my life together will be severed forever. No landscape vista, no tender embrace, no ceremonial edifice will be remembered indefinitely. I, who have already forgotten far more milliseconds of my life than I have remembered, should know this with acute clarity. To live for the sake of memories alone is to document a voyage by writing in chalk on the hull of a sinking vessel.

There may be many reasons why today might be meaningful, beautiful, and important — but its meaning, beauty, and importance has nothing to do with whether or not you will remember it forever. You won’t. You barely even remember how this article began, much less the articles you read last week. What makes today’s journey worth traversing is noticing and appreciating everything you pass and everyone you meet along the way.

1 Comment

  1. James, thanks for this. I cannot tell you how many times, while cycling, I have had similar thoughts. We enjoy the journey, even if we cannot remember each moment.

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