5 April 2009
“By Jupiter!” I exclaimed loudly, “the chances have GOT to be one in three.”
“Uhm, excuse me,” replied the officer, “but you were going seventy in a twenty five and you just ran over a dog. Now I’m going to ask again, can I see your license and registration?”
Noting the lack of a please, and sensing the disdain dripping from the officer like the perspiration off of his mustache, I took my sweet time retrieving my information. I must admit, my patience with my eternal return to this stupid situation was wearing thin. Handing over my tattered license and slightly outdated registration, I settled back into my seat to try to revive the revelation which had led me to this mythical situation in the first place. Before the anamnesis could occur however, the portly senex was back at my window, and he wasn’t happy.
“Listen here son, you went too far this time. Your blatant disregard for the law combined with your previous speeding record is making me think you need some real punishment! That dog back there was someone’s pet, and now because of your irresponsibility, it’s dead.”
“Ah, Dr. Sexson was right,” I thought to myself. “The past truly does possess the present.”
At this point, I knew I had two choices. Suck up, play nice and go home with a speeding ticket, OR let Hermes take over and see what would happen.
Recklessly taking the second option, I smiled at the prospect of flyting with the officer and let loose.
“Quit singing your goat song sir, if the dog is really bothering you that much, why don’t you just go home and blog about it, you will feel much better. He shouldn’t have been running around the intersection of Willson and Main Street in the first place.”
Uh oh. With a swift motion, the officer utilized his taser, shooting me directly in the chest. Sarvam Duhkam indeed.
Upon waking, I soon discovered the error in allowing Hermes, instead of Prometheus, to possess my sense of enthusiasm. Looking around, my eyes took in not the pleasant scenes of my own room, but instead, I found myself trapped in a dreary jail cell commune with 10 men who, upon my first glance, seemed immanently bent on sparagmos. Again, Dr. Sexson was right. The best remedy for this situation would have been to never have been born, because the second best option at the time seemed like a terrible way to begin my personal journey of metempsychosis.
Upon seeing my conscious state, the impatient chorus broke into a heated stichomythia about what I can only assume was over who got to establish the archetype for their very own phallic ritual. I had to laugh, because I knew if I started crying it would seal my fate as their concubine. Seeing my laughter, the chthonic group became all the more frenzied in their obscene advances. Suddenly, I had a polytropic stroke of anamnesis, the very remembrance I had been hoping to achieve back on Willson Street.
“Stop it, NOW!” I shouted, with a vehemence I didn’t know I possessed.
Confused, and not wanting to wake up the guards, the mob of unruly degenerates halted. Not wanting their daze to expire, I quickly recalled the whole revelation which had put me in this Hades-hole in the first place. Being stupefied by my miraculous attainment of boldness, the chorus actually became curious about what had so possessed me.
“Ok buddy, you’ve got our attention, what can you possibly tell us that would somehow save you from your fate?”
When I replied, the words seemed to fall out of my mouth with no regard for clarity or presentation.
“Ttt-trust me fellas you guys are ignorant right now and believe me I mean that in the best possible way but honestly you don’t know anything and you have to agree that it’s better to know something than to not know something am I right or am I right?”
Zeus, it sounded so much better when Dr. Sexson said it. Despite my bout of stage-or cell-fright, I knew that the show had to go on. As I gauged their befuddled expressions, I continued on the pretence that I must have been right.
“I’m going to tell you a story about myself, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with me, because the experience I am about to share has been felt and understood since the beginning of time, over and over and over again. My friends, in illo tempore, the story I’m about to tell was easily understood by young and old, and rich and poor alike. However, these days…”
“Shut up, you maypole riding son of Athena!” shouted one of the larger members of the cell. “Skip the symposium and tell us the news already!”
“Ha, well it’s actually the eternities, but alright, here we go…”
Calling to mind the introduction to my term paper for English 213, I began softly:
At the beginning of my college career, a mere 18 months ago, I didn’t know anything. Every single day seemed like a frivolous exercise in uninhibited progress towards an unnamed, unknown goal. Ha, the “progress” part would be more accurately described as a subtle stagnation. I knew the information I was learning and regurgitating had no real, practical application to my life. I didn’t know what actually did have any meaning to me on a deeper level, but I had the vague sense that I hadn’t found it yet. This feeling of wandering, of “going through the motions” brought me no satisfaction, and although I achieved very respectable grades, the only impression made was upon my parents. The culmination of 3 consecutive semesters of purposeless, meaningless work perpetuated itself within my mind until I found myself stuck on the verge of an existential frenzy of stress and confusion. I needed an answer badly, and I was quite unprepared for the unexpected nature with which one presented itself.
I’ll never forget that lonely October morning. As far as I was concerned, I was the only person on campus, accompanied only by my battered ego. As I marched dejectedly to Montana Hall, I tried to find some sort of consolation in the fact that I was finally declaring my major. However, none would come. I was dropping a class, Calculus to be exact, and the experience of giving up was too much for my inflated sense of self to handle. I guess by declaring English that day, I was acting in desperation, declaring a major that by conventional standards, namely those of my father, had “no practical application to the real world.” At the time, I believed him, and consequently prolonged my declaration to study the subject which actually interested me the most. As I embarked on my journey into the realm of literature, I had no idea how “practical” the information I was to learn actually was.
Sitting in English 213 the first day, my initial reaction to the unusual introduction/quote recitation was one of surprise, followed shortly thereafter by utter confusion. The past possesses the present? For a newly declared English major used to the drudgery of 100 person lectures and power point presentations, this was a shocker to say the least. Over the course of my first few weeks in an English centered curriculum, the need to dramatically upgrade my attitude and perception of school became alarmingly apparent. Having resolved to devote more time to school, I dutifully dove headfirst into the Homeric Hymns, and thus my metamorphosis began. At first, I was overwhelmed trying to find meaning in ancient texts depicting imaginary stories, and as far as I was concerned, they all chalked up to elaborate fairy tales. However, this point of view wouldn’t last long. As the class lectures by Dr. Sexson continued to amass, my understanding of the texts also grew. I believe it was while reading Plato that my first real sense of what the class and our readings were all about. “[…] And will search out and bring to the birth thoughts which may improve the young, until his beloved is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws, and understand that all is of one kindred, and that personal beauty is only a trifle; […] Until at length he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere (Plato 33).”
Not only does this quote epitomize the central theme of the class, but it also alludes to the answer I had been searching for all along. In my previous life, I had been on a consistently selfish search to discover my own individual purpose in the great scheme of things. Circumstantially bound. I simply didn’t see that I, like every other organism on the planet, am subject to the same ever-present force; the ignored reality that life goes on with or without my existence and that my experiences and feelings are far from unique. When I was finally able to grasp an abstract comprehension of this universal connection, I found myself consumed. I searched for signs everywhere, and the more I looked, the more I saw. Starting with Plato and meticulously moving through all the assigned texts, I made it my goal to find within each the “life force” and “universality” which had fully captured my attention. It was in Diotima’s quote and it was in the wild child, but I wanted proof that this vague and overarching theme applied to matters outside the walls of Wilson Hall.
It didn’t take much searching before I found that Dr. Sexson was indeed correct. Plato called it love, the Hindus called it the Brahman, and the Christians called it “peace of God which passeth all understanding…” (Isherwood 2). Having no formal religious background, the title or specific doctrine was of little personal significance. All that mattered is that I saw and understood exactly what Dr. Sexson was talking about in all those abstract lectures about eternities and metempsychosis and reincarnation. Whether these concepts are only metaphors for a spiritless physical occurrence or not doesn’t matter. What matters is truth.
When a close family friend died a few years ago, I was completely shocked, saddened and confused. The only solace to be found was in the vague and obscure hope that perhaps someday we would be reunited in some idealistic form of “heaven.” Now, five years later, I have finally found the solace which has eluded me for so long. I realized it’s not the physical existence of heaven that matters; Life and death will continue to happen whether I like it or not. What matters is whether or not I see the “past contained within the present.” My friend has continued to live within me even though she is physically departed from the world. Her kindness and generosity always amazed me, and I know when I feel those same feelings it is her “past” teachings becoming apparent in my “present” reality. In a way, my friend’s spirit has been reincarnated within myself, and when I display those virtues which were instilled in me so long ago, she presents herself to the world once more.
Knowing what I know now, I feel completely confident that I could go back to my dad and talk for hours about the practical application of my English study. Sure, I haven’t learned about the complex equations which “predict” economic outcomes, nor have I learned the principles of business marketing. What I have learned is that ultimately, these things don’t matter. Through my metamorphosis this semester, I have gained an acceptance and appreciation for life which I once believed to be unattainable. By reading the past work of others who have a far greater understanding of life than my own, I have seen the terrible occurrence of tragedy beautifully transcribed into poetic works of literary catharsis. It is this “power of the originary” which allows us to circumvent our own personal tragedies to some extent by exhibiting to us that the issues of love and loss which were present in illo tempore, will always be with us. Though death is a haunting and rarely discussed experience, by reading and writing, and by laughing rather than crying, we rob death of its power to do us harm.