Once a trilobite had the distinct feeling it was being watched. This unnerving sensation was something new. The trilobite could remember, or at least thought it could remember, days when it was free of any sense that the eyes of others were upon it—billions and billions of flinty eyes in the Paleozoic shallows where trilobites teemed. 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 globe had become a camera set on autofocus and nothing was ever deemed too insignificant to be captured and then offered up to every other trilobite as proof of expected, species-wide “sharing.” All of one’s life now seemed reduced to lowest-common-denominator status, with personal 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 steadily thickened, trapping one ever more deeply in a past that other trilobites now insured through their witness would never be forgotten. A past that could never be escaped once it became fixed in the stone-hard record of time. Yet wasn’t the promise of life supposed to be precisely a defiance of time? Wasn’t the governing belief that the entire trilobite nation took for granted one of experience as constant self-development? As a perpetual overcoming of the limitations of the past? A promised advance to ever greater and greater triumphs and rewards? Or at least so this trilobite had been continually assured was the case by those who claimed to know all that a trilobite needed to know about realizing its endless potential. Now, though, 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 unwanted intrusions on its life signaled to the trilobite. And the next moment would impose its own limits, as if moments alone were all that mattered and not the life evolving through them. A life increasingly crushed, in fact, by their layered weight. There would be no breaking loose from this burden, the trilobite began to comprehend. No ambitious reaching for the future—or the many futures it had been led to believe were its for the fashioning. Instead, any misstep it made, however slight, any offhand comment it might voice and then immediately regret, any half-formed idea it might wish to let mature at its own pace, any phantom desire that might beckon it on to discoveries yet unimagined—all of these would only serve to make permanent how it appeared at this precise instant when viewed and “documented” from the outside by total strangers. Was it every trilobite’s lot, 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 achieve something beyond the world that generation upon generation of look-alike forebears had left you? And the future? What did the future now hold but unending scrutiny and labeling by others, when nothing about the trilobite would remain “unknown”—except, that was, its own fond hopes of becoming something more over time?
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans