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When was the last time you really thought about something?
I haven’t thought about anything in particular in about a year. My mind is empty. I didn’t notice it at first, but now I can’t stop worrying about it. Is it strange that I don’t think about things? Or is that normal? Should my inner monologue be consistently insightful?
Sometimes I tell people about my thinking problem, but they never understand completely. They think my thoughts are stuck on one thing, and they tell me that it’s ok to let my mind wander. They say, “Look, Stella, your thoughts can’t always be occupied by just one thing.” Or they think I’m trying to say I can’t focus on any one thing. So, they say I should make notes of things I think about (so I can think about them more later). But that’s not the issue. I don’t have this absurd jumble of thoughts that lead me on strange tangents or into detailed daydreams. There’s just silence.
The first time I noticed it was on a road trip. My friends and I were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway from Portland to San Francisco. Our trip was coming to an end and we decided to spend a day in Redwood National Park. The forest was indescribable. We got there early in the morning, just after sunrise, and spent hours walking around ancient redwood trees that were wider than our car and as tall as the Statue of Liberty. At lunch, we clambered up the side of one of the fallen giants and ate our sandwiches there.
My friend Noah said, “Places like this always make me think about how small we are.” Everyone agreed as if they’d been pondering the insignificance of their lives that entire time too, and all I could do was look down at my salami sandwich and wonder what I had even been thinking about. It was like I had been in a trance, or I was hypnotized by the mist creeping up around the Redwoods. I hadn’t thought about how old the trees were. I hadn’t imagined any giants stomping through our picnic area, and I certainly hadn’t thought about how small I was.
A year is a long time to go without thinking. It sounds relaxing, and it was for a little while. But the longer I go without thinking, the less happy I feel. In fact, I’d say losing my ability to think has been the most unbearable thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s been so long that I’m afraid I’ll never think again, and if I never think again, what kind of person would I be?
I decided to talk to Noah about my situation because he’s the best thinker I know.
I said, “I haven’t really thought about anything in about a year. It’s making me feel like I’m not a real person, like maybe I’m a cloud floating across the sky or something silly like that.”
He said, “Maybe you should read a good book. Good books always make you think.”
He gave me his copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but even that didn’t help restart my thought processes. So I thought, maybe without thoughts I’m not actually alive. I’m just as dead as those cicada shells that get left on the bark of trees. They look like real cicadas and feel like real cicadas, but there’s a gash up the back of them and they’re completely empty on the inside. I wondered when I had died. Was it that day in the Redwood forest?