Throughout the ages many people have pondered the meaning of life and immortality of the human soul I come from a Christian background so the concept of reincarnation is anathema to my upbringing - and yet I have always been haunted by memories of a distant past that is not my own and a deep sense of loss and longing.
One theory I discovered some time ago is that we inherit memories in the same way our genetic make-up and character/personality traits (the nature vs nurture debate notwithstanding) are passed down to us by our forebears. Just as a spider knows how to spin an elaborate web with no instruction or assistance, so too do we carry within us the emotions and experiences of those came before. Its an interesting concept and a possible explanation if we truly do pass this way just once.
I realised early on that I studied history (I have an honours degree in the subject and taught it at high school for a time) not because I needed to learn anything, but because I receive a measure of comfort and familiarity while immersing myself in certain eras of the past.
In our past two homes I've found corners of the garden that have transported me back to an earlier time. This is the place I gravitated to where we live now. There is a tree stump covered in brambles and at the verge of the lawn long grass is allowed to grow wild, catching and reflecting the light of the afternoon sun.
During the summer months I sat here for hours and drank in the scene. I inhabit an eternal present where time has no meaning. A little brown bird provided company, foraging amongst the brambles and sunning itself on the stump. Two white butterflies also kept me entertained, waltzing and twirling in a graceful dance, spinning about in the sultry air. Yesterday I thought their short, joyous lives must be over as they were no longer here, but then I discovered them in another corner of the garden, flitting amongst the ripening apples positioned to take best advantage of the late summer sun.
I have many memories but the strongest is from the early Middle Ages. Strangely enough I'm not a princess in a castle tower, nor am I an important prominent person. Instead my recollections are those of a peasant. The landscape fills my mind with vivid detail - a field of wheat or corn ripening in the sun bounded by a forest. Where the cultivated land ends there is grass caching the silvery light at the edge of the trees. I can hear children playing and the sound of people working.
Often we are given the impression that this period of history was a fearful time - one of war and pestilence, hunger and want where the populace wore dun coloured clothing and lived in squalor. That is not my recollection at all. Instead I have a perception of community and co-operation, a simple life but one of plenty and a deep sense of contentment. I don't know if represents a tiny window of time or a prolonged period of prosperity.
I try to reach back to discern more detail but it is out of reach and the distance is too great. All I can do is sit in the sun dreaming of the past .....
.... and listen to the distant echo of children laughing.