It’s been a week. I realize, increasingly, that this space is a good inverse litmus test of some combination of how overtly busy I am combined with how ruminative I’m feeling about my life in general. While ideas and thoughts of what things mean or feel like are percolating, I tend not to write much here. When things are feeling calmer and more distilled, the outpourings tend to inundate this page. And the past week has brought much reflection.
I wanted to hold back on writing this post, or something like it, until I’d ruminated sufficiently to draw some conclusions. But as is often the result of meaningful mental inquiry, the questions have only yielded a fractal chain of infinitely more questions, with very little hope of satisfying answers on the horizon. And so I’m inclined to reflect on bathing in the questions rather than hoping to sew things up in a neat little bow. Fair warning, though, by the end of this (whose final sentences I can’t begin to envision yet), I may find some trite little cap to put on it, but I doubt it will be as holistic or satiating as normal.
A lot went wrong last week. My car, Emily’s car, the gift car, the daily needly little reminder of my past life (just in case you need a reframing of what my emotional state constantly confronts), got hit by a hit-and-run overnight driver exactly a week ago, on the eve of our departure for the GW tournament in DC. My discovery of this, which happened at some point early Friday morning between, say, 1 AM and 7 AM, between my return from the debate meeting and my departure for more debate, was made by looking for a mirror that was bent all the way back the wrong way. Further investigation revealed significant paint leavings and denting on the front-left part of the vehicle, along with broken headlight pieces from the offending party, which I petulantly picked up and put in my trunk as though life were some sort of CSI show where forensic evidence could be traced (and as though a hit-and-run-fender-bender were sufficiently significant to merit utilization of such tracing). I care less about material possessions than most and far less about the prettiness of my car than anyone (average car-washes per year: 0.33), but it’s still the type of event that just makes you hate your species. I had no time to file a police report when having to keep a schedule to make the tournament, and have functionally kind of lost the will to consider same since. It’s already blended into my reality. Something about losing everything makes you a lot more comfortable with losing a little more without seeking recourse. One’s sense of justice kind of loses its bearings when one has confronted enough unfairness.
Then one of our top debaters landed in the hospital in DC not once, but twice, facing a 103 fever and complications from dehydration and possibly bronchitis. I joined the waiting party for one of the two 5-hour late-night stints in the ER, envisaging flashbacks of my last big late-night ER waiting session and even the night I drove myself to the hospital with what proved to be kidney stones. Amidst the bleary off-lit reality of every hospital, the surreal pallor of medical danger and overtired health care professionals, I had time to reflect on how we enter and leave this society and the lives of those for whom this brink of death and destruction is as commonplace as debate has become again for me. The delirious walk back at 4 AM with the rejuvenated debater and our two cohorts felt like seeing between the lines of reality, peeking behind the webbing of the virtual reality and playing with the planes. And then of course I had a belly-punching kidney stone come in the next day, distracting me back almost out of any semblance of reality as I dealt with emotional upheaval of the vibrant community in which I am ensconced on all sides.
The weekend was not without joy, mind. There were connections and cross-connections aplenty, the opportunity for Fish to meet a good chunk of my team in DC, put them up, regale them with stories of my youth over poker and jokes and green chile mac-n-cheese. We spent a blustery afternoon walking monuments and strapping into the time machine that DC will always be for me, the hearkening of the longest single year of my existence, the 1987-88 stretch that broadened my horizons and, in retrospect, seems scarier for my parents every time I reconsider it despite my own blithe youthful excitement and optimism in that time. We took countless pictures (you can take a look), scouring DC for the photo opportunities more than our own experience, as though the chronicling of the moments was a vastly more important process than the moment itself. And in light of memory, in the full view of time, in the era of digital photography and instant re-editing, re-taking, re-imagining, it is hard for me to argue with this model. What do we have, ultimately, beyond our memories, our documentation and remnants of the past? Should we not be just as careful about their remembrance as we are about the moments themselves? Is that not, in many ways, the very purpose of this blog? Look at how many scenarios I’ve referenced by their artifactual telling in this same format rather than recount in renewed detail from the contemporary vantage!
And yet, despite my enhanced emotional bonding with so many on the team, despite the increasing feeling that I have found the wheelhouse of what to do with my time in this fugue state of pushing my own emotional ruins around into something that looks more like stacked rubble than strewn rubble, I feel a certain isolation. I could call this isolation generational, but I don’t really even see a gap between myself and my charges, let alone do I put much stock in that kind of temporal passage. More than anything, the isolation is philosophical, and its depth appears to be increasing. And while there are possible mundane causes, such as being on the East Coast, dealing with college students newly emboldened with their sense of questioning prior assumptions, even the self-selection of debaters perhaps, the overall trend seems somewhat distressing to an idealistic believer like me. It feels, more and more, like people are devolving toward some sort of faith in an uncaring, deterministic universe where meaning and purpose are replaced with cold hard economics, physics, and so-called facts. And it’s not exactly helping me fall in love with my species.
I’m smarting a bit, I’ll grant, from some selection bias over a few experiences I’ve had of late. Extensive Facebook debates and dialogues with hardened, if thoroughly illogical, devotees of science as their only religion. Near screaming debates with debaters about the unprovability of anything, relative probabilities, and the pursuit of understanding. Resigned sighs with the increasingly faithless over what their lot in life may be, how much control they may have, how much choice they even give themselves over who they spend their time with, how, why. And far too much contact with people who find the siren call of wealth, materialism, and the simplest of base pleasures to be sufficient justification for all manner of overt moral compromise. If the pillaging of my marriage tested my faith in any one person, in even the notion of the individual as someone who can have value and can be trusted, then the last week has seemed to test my faith in the whole lot of them, in the very idea of community.
And I’m exaggerating a bit. There are exceptions, as there always are. And overall, I’ve actually felt heartened and strengthened by my community, which has probably made this tidal wave of determinist resignation feel even more unsettling for its contrast. But the near-universality of declarative statements like everything coming down to economics and basic motivations or everything being a chemical reaction and physically explicable make me wonder what I’m even railing for anymore. It becomes wearying to be told how crazy one is ad nauseum. At a certain point, the crazy man has to resign himself to his fate, no matter how sane he believes himself to objectively be. For the reality is that objectivity itself fails to have much resonance when everyone is living in a different functional paradigm. Which is not an excuse for adjusting to and embracing the subjective wrongs of society as they exist, but it might be a justification for spending less energy beating back ceaselessly against the tide.
I feel like I’m being a bit vague. Summarative. Skipping steps, either because I presume that you know the course of my argument between free will and determinism, souls and science, God and nihilism, or because I’m losing my faith in my ability to persuade anyone young enough to be able to read this that there’s any question about these matters to be discussed. I also must acknowledge the extent to which time remains a factor in my life, in which no matter how much I try to avoid them, little biological necessities like eating before a long and demanding day, must be paid their begrudging due.
I think the point, ultimately, comes down to the point. Where to find purpose and meaning in a world that’s shutting such notions down like so many decrepit nuclear reactors, a world collapsing these concepts into careless mathematical formulae faster than we can even fully observe. My ability to find such direction in a direct personal bond with someone has been tested beyond its limit, snapping back in a possibly irreparable way. And thus I’ve turned to various pursuits of persuasion and influence, of digging myself out with work and effort all designed at further honing my skills as someone who has something to say about this lonely rock and its frantic inhabitants.
Some of my charges, the most observant or kindest of them perhaps, try to remind me that I’m having an influence, the old trite “making a difference”. And perhaps it’s true. Okay, probably. But it still feels, holistically, like I’m spitting in the ocean, or perhaps more pertinently trying to find a particular gob of spit in the ocean. And the process is starting to seem about that appetizing. What’s the point in being the exception to everything if you don’t get any company along the way? Am I simply doing it wrong? At what point will fatigue in hoping to be ahead of one’s time devolve into a numb alignment with the contemporary failings? And yet how could one then live with undertaking a course of action one already determined to be so problematic?
And yet, when examined closely, all of these questions seem to disintegrate in the face of the largest one of all, the one about the hope of companionship, which underlines and circles all these larger issues of isolation and distance and unrelatability. And maybe that’s where all the exhaustion and resignation comes from, in the end. It’s one thing to worry esoterically about the search for meaning coming up dry and empty after a long lifetime’s slog. It’s quite another if one undertook that slogging journey without so much as a soul for accompaniment.
I really wish I could peek at the future, just a glimpse or a hint or a sign. But to do so would violate my belief about the nature of the universe itself. Would I trade the indeterminate nature of the universe for a deterministic one merely to offer the opportunity to look ahead? Or would I immediately regret the missed opportunity to fleetingly agonize with my gobstoppered emotions?
My answer, like the rest of it, is indeterminate.