Past Lives

I don’t really believe in reincarnation.

Much as I am taken in by the romantic concept of reincarnation, I don’t really believe in it. It’s a nice idea, to think that we might have had past lives, that we might live on in some way after we’re gone, and I can easily imagine myself in some distant path, in another body but with the same soul. Sure, I like the idea, but do I truly believe? No, certainly not.

But then, earlier this year, I took a trip to London. I wanted to carry out a bit of research for the novel I’m working on (Dead London), and I also just needed to get away for a little while. I had been to London before, as a child, but surely that wasn’t the only reason that my trip to London felt more like a homecoming than a vacation. I felt a strange kinship with the city, the sense that I somehow belonged there. It was difficult to leave; I began forming plans to relocate, even while I was still there, and I gave it serious consideration when I returned to Vancouver. Later, when I looked at photos from my trip, I felt not merely sadness for my trip being over, but actual homesickness. I had never felt homesickness before – so why was I feeling that for a city that I had merely visited? Was it possible that in some distant past, London truly was the place I called home?

Perhaps, not so distant a past…

When I think of London, a city with a long history, I can’t help but associate it with a particular time period. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve watched too many movies or read too many books, but I tend to picture the city lit by gaslight. I think of Jack the Ripper stalking the streets, of Dickensian orphans working in factories or as chimney sweeps. I think of a city filled with fog and smoke. I think of gentlemen and ladies attending the opera or the ball, while the poor die of consumption. with slums and tenements only blocks away from the wealthy elite. I think of opium dens and absinthe. I think of Victorian London.

If I truly did have a past life, maybe it wasn’t so long ago. For all that it seems like the distant past, given how rapidly technology has changed in the past century or two, the Victorian era isn’t really that far in our past. Not, when you consider the long life that London has had. So, if I did happen to believe in reincarnation, I might be swept away by the notion that a past version of me once walked the streets of Victorian London. Perhaps he – or she, for that matter – once looked into the face of Jack the Ripper. He might have been a famous artist, or a humble factory worker, or an inmate at Newgate Prison, destined only for the hangman’s noose.

Perhaps that’s why I felt such a connection with London. Or maybe, just maybe, there’s a simpler explanation. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been writing and researching Dead London for several years now, and it’s become so ingrained in my imagination that it has begun to feel like home. One of the many curses of being a writer, after all, is that our characters can at times feel more real or more important to us than real people. A city like London is quite the character.

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