Once a trilobite had the distinct feeling it was being watched. This unnerving sensation was something new. The trilobite could remember, or at least believed it could remember, days when it was free of any sense that the eyes of others were upon it. Billions and billions of eyes in the Paleozoic shallows teeming with trilobites. There was a time, not so distant, when each member of these multitudes had appeared intent on pursuing its own life, little interested in the doings of its neighbor. When had that all changed? For changed it had, and today one’s neighbors to the ends of the earth suddenly wanted to know “everything about you,” right down to your first awkward moves in the morning, all the many places your day took you, and your last fading twitch before sleep. As if the entire world had become a camera set on time-lapse for eternity and nothing was ever deemed too insignificant to be captured, then offered up to every other trilobite as proof of some kind of “connection.” All of one’s life now seemed reduced to a single plane of value, with highs and lows hard to distinguish any longer. Whatever brief moments deviated from the expected were now labeled “peak experiences” precisely because they stood out so rarely amid the daily silt of existence piling up all around and growing more difficult to wade through as it thickened and then hardened in place, trapping one ever more solidly in a past that other trilobites now insured through their witness would never be forgotten. Could never be escaped once it became fixed in the record of time. But wasn’t the promise of life supposed to be precisely a defiance of time’s binding menace? Wasn’t the governing belief all of the trilobite nation took for granted one of experience as constant self-development, as a perpetual overcoming of the limitations of the past—an individualized destiny of advancement to ever greater and greater triumphs and rewards? Or at least so this trilobite had been continually assured by those who claimed to know all that a trilobite needed to know. If life didn’t pan out wherever you found yourself, the cherished confidence proclaimed, you could always pull up stakes and move on to somewhere else, chase that dream of making something of your life by escaping all your failures and showing the stuff you were made of in the dawn of a bright new day—all of it offered any trilobite that was up to the challenge. And not simply offered but insisted upon in the unquestioned expectation you’d make a glowing success of the opportunity to reinvent yourself as something better in the grand scheme of life. Yet now this confidence was threatened as one’s every moment and move were eyed from myriad angles by others. “You will always be what you are right now” these intrusions on its life told the trilobite. And the following moment would impose its own limits, separate from the last and from the next, as if moments alone were all that mattered and not the life evolving out of them. The life increasingly crushed by their layered weight. There would be no breaking loose from its past, the trilobite began to comprehend. No freedom promised by an ambitious reaching for the future—or the many futures it had been led to believe were its for the fashioning. Instead, each misstep it made, however slight, each offhand comment it might voice and then immediately regret, each half-formed idea it might wish to let mature at its own pace, each phantom desire that might beckon it on to discoveries yet unimagined—all of these would only serve to bury it in the permanent record of how it appeared at this precise instant when viewed from the outside by strangers who thought of themselves as its “friend.” Was it every trilobite’s fate, then, to be buried alive in its past, while the whole point of being born in the first place, a point so confidently endorsed by all, was to go beyond the world that untold generations of look-alike ancestors had left you? And the future? What did the future now hold but unending exposure, when nothing about the trilobite would have faded into oblivion—except, that was, for its own cherished view of itself.
Copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Grosshans