What if everyone was only one second old?
It was a wacky theory. I'd listened patiently to it for the last ten minutes, so I certainly knew I'd been alive for more than a second. And I'd watched him deliver the theory with passion, so I knew he shared equal longevity, too. But his questions still haunted.
What if our memories of the past were nothing but elaborate programming that arrived with our bodies? Similar to the automatic systems that cause us to breathe, pump blood and heal cuts, what if our memories weren't created by us at all?
What if everything we see - every tree, every building, every mountain, every person, is nothing more than a prop provided to maintain the dream that we've been alive for a lifetime?
"MICHAEL!" The full power of his personality bored into my eyes. "Prove that my theory is not the case. Prove to me you've lived for decades and not just an instant."
I swallowed hard. After all, he did look like Einstein. "What about my parents?," I offered. "They remember raising me."
"Of course they do. And that proves my point. They have programmed memories."
"But I have a birth certificate to prove it!"
"Provided props. Just like your body. It was provided automatically."
"What about my friends? The people who know me and those I know?"
"Where is any relationship but in your mind? Your friends are merely programmed memories."
"But I have momentos from the past! What about the Little League picture? The rabbit's foot? The High School Diploma?"
Now he was smiling. "Provided props."
"But I remember how I got them!"
I was stuck. Everything I could think of to prove I'd existed longer than a second could easily be explained away as a programmed memory or a provided prop.
Then I caught his drift.
What a refreshing thought! Was it possible? If all my memories and props weren't "mine" at all, I was free to do or become anything different right now! Total freedom! Clean slate! I could do anything I'd ever wanted right now!
He watched my sly grin just long enough for the first rush of possibilities to dash across my mind.
"But what does it matter, Michael?," he queried, bringing my attention back to the present. "Whether we've been alive an instant or a lifetime, whether we created our own memories or not? Isn't time relative? Don't we always return to the threshold of where we began -- this present instant?"
"So each second is actually..."
"An individual lifetime! Each second can be lived independent of the last one! Memories and props are merely the scenery that surrounds us when we choose to live in a past moment instead of the fresh one we're actually in."
"So you mean that most of us are actually..."
"Yes! Yes! Unaware that we're lost in dreams of the past! We've forgotten we have the power this instant to change whatever we choose!"
And with that, the professor vanished. And with his final words ringing in my ears, I remained in my dream thinking about that for a long, long time.
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