In Paul Auster’s latest memoir, Department of the Interior, he says,
“There is nothing better than being six years old, six is far and away the best age anyone can be. You remember thinking this as clearly as you remember what you did three seconds ago. . . What had happened to cause such an overpowering feeling? Impossible to know, but you suspect it had something to do with the birth of self-consciousness, that thing that happens to children at around the age of six, when the inner voice awakes and the ability to think a thought and tell yourself you are thinking that thought begins. . . You could think about being alive, and once you could do that, you could . . . tell yourself how good it was to be alive.”
I remember being five years old and telling myself that I was always going to remember what it felt like to be five years old. I tried to fix that year in permanent marker in my brain, afraid even then, of losing myself. “Five will always be my favorite number,” I said. “I didn’t just pick it because I’m five years old.”
A few years later, I promised not to forget what it felt like to be a child. What I meant, at age eight or nine, was that I didn’t want to lose sight, once I grew up, of how powerless it felt to be a child. How much all your decisions are made for you. How little control you have. Does the fact that I’m writing this mean I’ve remembered? I’m not sure.
Then there are moments, like Paul Auster’s, when I told myself I was glad to be alive. The moment I learned I got a scholarship to go to college in New York City. Me? Really? The moment I realized James was going to marry me. It’s true. He did! I remember those moments as well as I remember my name. Times when I was so lucky I kept looking behind my shoulder, afraid someone would leap up and say, Oops! Wrong person. We didn’t mean you.
And here I am, realizing that all it takes to have one of those “I’m lucky to be alive” moments is self-consciousness. All I need to do is pay attention.
I am traveling to Paris with my family. I am eating a pain au lait at the table while gazing out at the rain. I am typing a blog post about the ecstasy of it all. I am thinking, then taking stock of my thinking. Maybe I’ll still recall this moment decades from now. I’ll remember trying to remember: There is nothing better than this.