Cheers… Notes on being a terrible person.
Let’s talk about goodbyes. Stop me if this sounds maudlin or teenage, but a goodbye is not necessarily a bad thing. Painful, certainly, for one or both parties, but painful in respect of catharsis. So less the pain you experience when recalling that time you thought you could bushido code your way into the heart of your high school crush and declared your love for her on the school’s intercom, only to have your meat thoroughly ground by her creepy 23 year old boyfriend, and more the pain of having a burst appendix removed. And, frankly, I think that we can all with the bare minimum of effort recall at least one lover or family member that fits the description of a failed, rotting piece of evolutionarily redundant dead flesh that we were all too happy to have cut forcibly from our lives. But these are my views, and try as I might to avoid the awful truth I must acknowledge that being a total shit toward the people you love will be, cathartic or otherwise, what they remember about you.
At the risk of erroneously assuming that a semester of undergrad philosophy qualifies me to talk about such things, this can be a positive thing. Forgiveness, of the self or by others, is not forgetting, and it cannot and should not be. By this I mean that history is identity, behaviourally speaking. Now, I know it’s unacceptably trite to smack you, dear reader, around the face with the wet fish of “We iz der SuM total ov ours past lolz!!!1!1!!” and stand there with a grin on my face expecting that you praise me for that staggering lack of originality, but bear with me, please. To forget a person’s misdeeds is to invalidate that person’s past, and in so doing invalidate that person. Forgive my arrogance, but I am of the opinion that the memory of screaming, hateful glares, and fumbled goodbyes is just as important as the establishment of sites of memory such as museums and nationalist monuments. Negatively, the memories these events or sites provoke give us something to move away from: never again let us get our philosophies twisted and hateful / head out for an afternoon of ethnic cleansing / ignore the 12 missed calls after a fight. Positively, they serve as a reminder of an ideal once held: hey, remember how we felt listening to Great Leader’s speeches / when we finally received the right to vote / when we could say “I love you” without forced, awkward eye contact? While I won’t presume to speak for all of humanity, we do appear to be an analytical species, consciously or otherwise comparing each and everything we do or plan to do against lived experience. Character readjustment, reclamation, and healing isn’t exempt from this.
Change, then, is today’s theme. Also hope, gratitude, forgiveness, and a retroactive awareness of the socio-historical self, but jeez, look how many commas and ten-dollar words there are in this sentence, it’s not nearly as catchy.
One of the classes I teach is practicing their English by reading Héctor Tobar’s “The 33”, the story of the guess-how-many Chilean miners who were trapped underground when the San José Mine collapsed in on itself back in 2010. Though the book loses impact in the later chapters (6/10: sorry, but there are only so many ways of saying “it was scary in the dark and we were hungry”), it has some solid life advice to offer in the interviews Mr Tobar conducted with the miners. First off, understand that others both intimately linked and entirely unfamiliar to you are suffering, too. These people have suffered and continue to suffer greatly to get you where you are today, whether they be the family that buried itself deeper and deeper into debt in order to put you through school, or the faceless Indonesian factory worker whose work environment actually, factually features suicide safety nets, lest he decide its simply not worth literally slaving away to provide you with the fancy electronics and processed food to which you have become so accustomed. Here you sit, reading my blog (thanks, less mopey stuff is on the way, I promise), depending on how you choose to look at it either the fruit of their labours or the product of their suffering. But know this: beyond the petty, bloody, a-film-by-director-Quentin-Tarantino-with-executive-producer-Guillermo-del-Toro family feud bullshit, the only legitimate reason these people could ever have for resenting you is if you fail to acknowledge them. There is little you can do to pay them back. But you do great harm and further increase their suffering if you do not realize who and how you are, by failing to acknowledge their humanity, their investment, and their faith in you. Defend their humanity with patience and determination, and in so doing, through this quiet dignity of purpose, you acknowledge their sacrifice and affirm their honour. Second, know that the future is unknown and unknowable. In this very absence of proof or promise lies, ironically, the foundations of faith, be ye so inclined. The impossibility of your continued survival in a world wherein random, thoughtless crimes, or a rampaging virus, or your flight simply dropping out of the sky and disappearing forever for no clear reason threaten to snatch that survival away from you every day carries in it a hint of the divine. To be alive, and consistently so, in this really rather horrifying situation you’re in can only be positive, either as an affirmation of the will of sovereign being carried out or as a giant and life-affirming “fuck you, I beat the odds again” each and every time you get out of bed. At the very least, think of it as a learning curve, and a promise of greater things to come.
Ok, phew, there we go, it’s done. Now I can finally start writing the silly stuff.