I’ve had an embarrassment of riches the past week or so, and part of that has been making a couple more new friends over email. I was having a great discussion with one of them, and I had her write up something on what we were talking about (she requested not to be named). I thought these definitions were freaking brilliant and very accurate. Maybe they’ll ring true for some of you reading this as well.
I came across something on the Internet recently, while curating my little blog of inspirational quotes and images that I keep to make me smile. It was a definition of the word “onism”:
(noun) An obsolete word, onism is defined by the frustration one feels of only being able to live one life. It describes the dissatisfaction of being stuck in your given body, which only inhabits one place. It is the total awareness that one’s experience in the world will always be limited.
That description stuck with me. Not because it was true, for me, but because I could no longer imagine a world in which it could be true again.
I haven’t “come out” to people on that one blog, and I don’t plan to – it’s my little sanctuary. As far as anyone there knows, I’m just an ordinary woman in her twenties with a love of travel, cute animals, and God. Which I am. I just happen to not be the only one, or even the “primary” one, in this body. You might say that’s deception; I say it’s self-preservation, against the kind of lowlifes who use people like me – ordinary, twenty-something women blogging about cats – for sport.
So I didn’t write about that on my blog. I don’t write about much on my blog, really. I’ve seen what happens to people who do. But I printed out the definition to put in my art journal, and next to it I wrote this.
but then, from this, plurism: the experience of being fragmented across all possible realities, highly aware.
I used to experience onism. As a little girl, I longed to slip into the lives of people in books: to be a champion horse-rider, a child of Narnia, a detective like Nancy Drew. As children I think we’re all onists. Ask us what we want to be, and we can’t choose: firefighter one minute, doctor or astronaut or dinosaur the next. Children are thirsty for knowledge, wanting to drink up every detail of life on this vast, complex Earth.
But people like me can’t be onists. People like me, who share bodies, have been lifted up into a certain extra dimension above reality, and seen that it’s not so simple. We see glimpses of ourselves in other worlds, in other people, in others playing out our lives on a screen. We see things that we could have been, paths that we didn’t take – and paths that we did, but through the impersonal eyes of a scriptwriter. We lose memories, and other people fill them in for us. We experience ourselves filtered, channeled, through other minds, colored by them even as they try to step back from us, to give us our space.
We try to be authentic, but we’re living in pieces. All we can do is try to gather up the pieces, scattered across infinite dimensions, and glue them back together again into something resembling ourselves.
Sometimes – when I spend too long dwelling in those multiple timelines, when I’m dazzled by the hugeness and strangeness of who I am – I think that God meant us to be onists after all. That no matter how small and confining it feels to be one, we’re not meant to be scattered and many, seeing ourselves through some kind of Doctor Who time vortex. I’m not that familiar with Doctor Who, but a friend told me that ordinary people who look into that infinity go mad. Sometimes it feels like going mad, all this.
And sometimes – I think this is maybe what the mystics were talking about. Seeing things for more than they are, for all that they could be. It’s hard, and it’s messy, and I sure as heck haven’t had the necessary initiatiory rites. But sometimes I think it’s worth seeing.
God created us to be small and confined, but He created us to come back to Himself, too. Most days, I feel like I walk the line. It’s exhilarating and it’s fearsome. Most days, I can’t believe I’m alive here – can’t believe this is my life. It’s so strange. It’s so different. I have almost as much trouble believing it as you do. But it is real.