Tree of Knowledge, Tree of Life
I’m Dr. Radowicz. Pleased to meet you. Are you comfortable there? May I get you a glass of water, or a cup of something hot? We have coffee and tea.
All right then. Why don’t we get started. I have some notes from Dr. Lambert, of course, but why don’t you tell me in your own words what’s going on. How do you think I can help you?
I don’t know who I am. (Patient stops speaking.)
That’s it. That’s all. I opened my eyes. I was lying on my back in bed. There was light in the room — I could make out my dresser, the bedside table — but it was dim. Like the room was filled with an ocean of water, and I was floating deep below the surface. Not so far down that everything was black. But in that murky, in-between zone. The window next to the bed was cracked open. I could hear a noise.
I thought at first it was blood. The sound of my own blood. A rushing sound. But when I stood up and looked out the window, I realized it was the wind in the trees.
So that was when you realized that you did not know who you were. Or are. Dr. Lambert’s notes indicate that this was, what, roughly a month ago, that morning you are describing.
Realize? It’s not like that. No, I think I never didn’t know that I don’t know who I am. There was … is no . . . no “before” and “after.”
Explain to me what you mean.
Do you remember learning about Socrates?
He said that the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing.
How did he know even that? How could he be sure that he knew nothing? If he actually knew that he knew nothing, then maybe he knew something else. Maybe he knew everything.
On that morning I described to you just now, and to Dr. Lambert when I saw him. I woke up. I noticed the dim light. I heard a sound. I went to the window. I looked out and saw the leaves and branches of a tree moving in the wind.
And you had … had a feeling, more than a thought, that you had forgotten who you are?
Again, no. I can’t seem to make myself clear.
It’s like I told Dr. Lambert. You have to listen to what I am saying. I woke up. I noticed the light. I heard a sound. I went to the window. I saw a tree moving.
Yes, and …?
And I don’t know who I am.
Look, I’m trying. I’m listening and I’m trying. What do the light and the sound and the tree, for example, have to do with why you went to see Dr. Lambert. Why you’re here talking to me. In fact, maybe that’s the way I should put my question. Why are you here?
Because you’re Socrates. Or the only Socrates I can find anyway. You admit you don’t know some things, but you are certain that you know other things, or at least that there are things that can be known. I’m here because I want to learn whether you know who you are.
Who are you, Dr. Radowicz? If you really do know who you are, then maybe I can, too. Know myself, I mean. In my history class, the professor said that in ancient Greece, an oracle had those very words inscribed on a wall around her temple: GNOTHI SEAUTON. “Know thyself.” That’s what the sign told the people who came to Delphi, but what they wanted instead was to have the oracle reveal the truth. They even paid her for it. The truth, I mean. And she gave it to them, though they could not understand it. It was all riddles. “If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed.” That king never thought that it was his empire she was talking about.
I think we should get back to you. Dr. Lambert suspected you might be suffering from dissociative amnesia. Did he tell you that? What do you think about that diagnosis?
I don’t know.
Don’t have an opinion, you mean?
Here’s what I suspect, doctor. I suspect that Socrates got close but finally lost his nerve. We can’t really know whether we know anything or not. We’re suspended in water and can’t be sure what’s up and what’s down. We’re lying in bed and can’t be sure whether that whooshing sound is the blood pulsing through our bodies or the coming of the apocalypse. We look out a window and can’t be sure whether the tree is moving or we are. And so, you see, I can never know who I am. I have never known and will never know. Instead, every morning I have to wake up and decide for myself who I am. Who I am going to be that day. I can see from your expression that you object. Maybe you even think it’s terrifying. To be adrift like that. To have no layers to peel back to find the genuine you. For myself, though, I prefer to believe that it’s liberating. That it’s possible to swim in either direction and live. That the same wind that stirs the leaves of a tree also stirs the blood in me. That maybe one day I will have so utterly “forgotten” that “the unexamined life is not worth living” (as if each of us is an archaeologist of his or her own enduring soul) that I will find myself floating up into the limbs of that tree. Weightless. Neither anchor nor anchored. Awake and alert and open to everything — not mere sound and fury, but music and dance — that the briefest moment offers.