Barney lamented the transience of memory. That it is the strange paradox of our memory to betray our trust, and slowly lose the postcards of pain that we so assiduously collected. In the midst of our suffering, the overwhelming “hereness” of a moment, an eternity, endured in pain, our sole light of consolation was indeed the pain itself- how we managed to grasp it (like grasping an ocean) and encase it so that we may remember it. So that we may be worthy of it.
Yet our collection of pain is not unlike that old Chinese parable of the bear in the cornfields- overwhelmed by what he saw, he snatched the nearest ear within reach and hastily held it under his left elbow. Then, reaching out with his left, he early grabbed the next ear and put it under his right. Presumably, at the end of his foraging trail, to his great surprise/demise, he realized that he was only carrying one ear. The rest lay behind him, desposed by the same urgency that prompted their arrival.
So that in the midst of my pain I reached out and snagged at every and any sympathetic ear in sight- be careful that you cherish the words and attention that others gave to you, Max.
Cherish it, because sympathy in the way of suffering is no easy task. To sit and listen, and empty oneself of all personal, immediate worries to take on that of another- that is perhaps one of the greatest challenges that man faces today. This age of disconnected, narcissistic solipsism, this great (melodramatic) despair- can be easily solved if we all were suddenly imbued with the extra burst of energy that allows for sympathy. The pathology of man, I think, is not so much that he despairs in the face of mortality and suffering out of their ultimate existential futility, but that it is too much easier simply to despair rather than to love or care. What is at stake is not eschatological questions, but capacity for prosaic kindness. Let every man find it within himself (and I believe that everyone can) to take a step on that rockier, more difficult road of empathy- to moderate one’s personal regard, to walk outside of the easy selfish bubble- and the world will be easily a better place.
This is no new line of thought. DFW in his commencement speech gave this very same message; that the real world demands a continuous struggle to be nice, genuine and prosaically kind.
In a sense, the disorientation at college is a gift, a boon from society. The real world is much much worse. Instead of the easy questions of “what are you concentrating in,” in which the illusions of ambition are still within easy mustering, life on the streets has no soft promise of fulfilling dreams. Instead, it is a grind of the monotonous against creativity, against initiative, the overpressing soporific lure to sleep and forget and just age. In the face of habit and pattern and rhythm, it is much easier to navigate life as a sleepwalker, whose colorless dreams are occasionally tinged with the red of alarm, but who grumbles and turns and continues to sleep. Until one day, you find yourself to be thirty, to be old, to be situated in time- and you make the mistake of looking up to see the future of the path you’ve been trudging on. The sight ends against the grey concrete wall of a R.I.P.
The horror. The utter horror.
College gives us the sight of that, buffered, as it is by 4 years, in which we can dream as big as we want and pretend that with each homework assignment, each problem set and essay and party and revelry, we are “preparing” ourselves. I am afraid not. I am afraid that the majority of the shit that we do at college is utterly useless. And we are too afraid to see this through. The tunnel vision that so often plagues me, when the week is filled with assignments and I live one day at a time, from one work to another- it is a sort of death. It is a sort of escape. Because we cannot lose our sight on the horizon. We must remember to look up from time to time, de- or inspite of the work that piles up before our eyes. We must still remember to plan ahead.
Otherwise, college will become the old cliche, that “happiest time of your life,” the last throes of adolescence and its carefree world. That is not the case- true life should not lose out against the nostalgic glow of myopic judgements and lack of care. The Chinese saying: 穷人的孩子早成家- that the kid in poverty grows up the fastest, reminds us of the theurapeutic value of working as well as thinking.
I think the existential crisis that so often plagued the scholars and philosophers does not exist on the same degree of significance for the man of the working class. Now, defenders of thought and class theory may say that it is because the working man is too oppressed by his immediate surroundings that he has neither time or capacity to think about these things, but I would suggest the opposite. It is because his erudite awareness of the inseparability of ideas to actions, that the only important thing is how to turn ideas into reality, that the working man does not suffer Nietzsche’s ressentiment. Nietzsche suffers from that, but the working man does not. The working man knows, how to create, build, live.
Returning back to the trunk of these thoughts from the topmost tangential branches- the importance of memory. I have already begun to forget a little (nay, a lot!) of the feelings of abandonment and loss that followed in the first few weeks. I have hardly even noticed the slip of emails, and the now sudden freedom to choose not to write them. Very very soon, that habit of sitting down and composing something, organizing chaos into coherent thoughts, will be lost. I must take care to preserve its memory.
The passage of time is a great healer. But is it really healing, or is it merely an analgesic. Suffering, and the fresh taste of suffering, is quite valuable, i think. It is only when we lose their memory that we fail them. Remember, Max, 11/14.