Saturday, February 1, 2014
I wrote the following sophomore year in college and revised (slightly) before posting:
By the time I became twelve, I became a “novice” in philosophy, an “old soul” towards life, a cynical critic towards my perceived reality. My change (or transformation) was not on my birthday, nor was it due to a gingerly lesson. It was neither due to a family member nor an inspiring educator. It wasn’t related to school, nor was it fun and at the time it did not appear like a beneficial event immediately, more of an unlikely event which I never thought could/would of happened. Interesting how the light bulb turns on when you least expect it, or want it to.
As a child we do not think about death, in fact due to the lack of consideration towards death, we have an ignorant sense of mortality. We perform actions without thinking about dying unless we know from prior experience (parents, consequences etc) that this event is dangerous. I recall an episode of “Malcolm in the Middle” and the oldest son, Rees, is hanging from a tree. Their father asked Rees “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know you could have died?” Rees with a straight face answers “I’m sixteen, I can’t die.” Whether you would like to think so or not, as a child, since we are not questioned on death, this is the reality we believe we lived in… Blissful ignorance if you will, until you are face to face with the reaper.
One winter afternoon (either 2000 or 2001) a close friend of mine, as well as next door neighbor, Brian and I were “playing” outside. I say play because that is what we thought we were doing, but really, we were being little devils. Building igloo forts to hide in, throwing snow balls at cars (open windows were double points), piling snow onto parked cars, un-shoveling people’s sidewalks who were mean to us, and (but not limited to) playing “war” with friends, neighborhood kids, and acquaintances. However on this particular day it was just us two. We both had asked our parents to take a (sick) day off of school to hang out and play all day.
We played what I believe was “spy vs. spy” and being hit with a snow ball would make you lose a piece of intelligence. As I turned to reload my ammunition I turn to not see my friend, I believed he was trying to hide or flank my position. But then as I looked around I saw him running across the street, but he does not make it across... As kids we (my group of friends) learned to look both ways because we were on a busy street, but we came to learn cars also stopped for kids on a whim. Except, this day, facts were turned into theory and reality didn’t seem too real.
“Brian?” I softly spoke as I turn to see a pick up truck had hit and threw my friend a yard and a half away from the front of the bumper. A drunk driver has hit my friend, I knew he was drunk because he was intensely confused on what to do, but he didn't have to do anything, he did enough.
As I stood motionless, Brian’s mother was coming out of the house to go to the store, to instead see her youngest in the middle of the street, and me in a shock. She ran to him, and being a nurse she knew proper procedure. He was still breathing.
Brian wasn’t dead, but I still didn’t know how to feel or react. Should I be scared that I will be randomly hit by a drunk driver? Should I feel happy he is not dead? Should I question how he survived? Should I go and try to help? Should I take good from the bad? Not one, but multiple questions came to me at these moments. Not one conclusion but a hundred came from this afternoon. I was able to die, I was not immortal...
“Memento Mori” is a Latin phrase translates roughly to “remember your mortal” and this is used for moments that will remind you of mortality, a reminder you will die comes to you every time you reflect on a Memento Mori. Ignorant to this phrase at the time, and even more unaware of how this experience will affect/effect me. Brian is now my living Memento Mori, he didn't die, he was a fat kid. But as a side note, I think the accident screwed up his spine because he never grew after that... actually he is the same size all around from that day on. His ability to peek my curiosity of physiology and philosophy, without his conscious consent, continues to this day, over a decade later.
My friend survived with a concussion and pride in being hit by a truck at 25 miles per hour and being able to tell the tale. I, however, partially and momentarily died. My youth died; my innocent inspection of this strange world, deceased. I became a cynical dick in retrospect, because a lot of things became dis-valued after the car accident. Playing developed a whole new meaning, because I never played again. I would “do stuff” from then on.
A contributing factor to my underage cynical-ism was my brother whom is 2 and half years older. His friends would go out of their way to teach me sexual terminology and humor. What jerks.
“Hey Nick, do you know what blumkin is?”
“It's where a chick gives you a blow job on the toilet, but you have to be taking a shit.”
“Oh, what's a blow job?”
They took away a lot of the fun of discovering these questions on my own. Also my brother and his friends would pick on me a lot, so I had to get sharper in order to put them back into their place. My fate to become a smart-ass was in motion. Besides trying to think of how to be smarter than a group of kids who looked up sex terms in the dictionary... I also just overall critically thought entirely too much. A couple of years later I read this “manual” on how to be popular and one of the chapters were all about how to NOT critically think about stuff, because those people who do so are “losers.” At first I was insulted but then I pieced together my past of me doing just that (thinking too much) in a ton of social situations.
Classroom setting: A Hispanic boy dictating his values of being 'hard':
“Yo, no one can mess with me, I will knock their ass out!”
Teacher: “Please stop speaking out, and let's continue”
“Fuck you nigga! I do what I want!”
Me: “Hey! Your ability to fight will not get you much further than a gang fight, so shut up”
**Later that day I would be beaten up by him – he showed me.
First, let me tell you, people do not like people who do not go with the flow, especially as children. To be a kid who would participated like a student in college should, as an 8th grader, was not alpha status of social popularity. (You can’t say you can’t play – Vivian Paley - is an excellent book about kids grouping other kids, as early as first grade.) Indeed, I was the nerd, geek, loser and dweeb of my early academic career – which, today, I find that to be the better of the circumstance. However wanting to fit in, just seemed impossible.
(The teacher steps out of the room to find a video to watch and a classmate begins a debate.)
Classmate: “Dude, why is this teacher such a jerk? Giving us homework over the weekend!”
After everyone agrees I chime in my two cents:
“It's called a curriculum and if they don't follow it, they get fired.”
Classmate 2: “So why don't we change the curriculum? Homework sucks”
“Good idea, just need to become a politician and change how we been teaching for a couple of decades now...” I don't remember what I said next but 'nerd' and “teacher's pet” followed in a classroom harmony. Remember those days of “OOOOooooooOOOO?” Miss them? I don't.
Regardless of what people thought about me (which was a lot), I started asking a lot more questions in school about “off topic” issues. In math I was wondering why basic rhetoric threw off others when we been practicing it since kindergarten. In history I was questioning why the same material was being covered year after year (the same 4 – 5 American wars...), and in English, I was just curious in how a language is a subject beyond learning how to speak it, can’t every class do that little by little, they are all in English right?… By the time I was a freshman in high school I knew I wanted to teach, because I wanted to experiment with teaching peers like mine. I decided on English, because clearly that was the easiest topic – actually, today, I find that an undergrad of English to be entirely a waste of time. By the time I was a freshman in college, I knew I didn’t want to teach in America, in the majority everyone is a pack of mindless followers (consumer zombies)... I digress.
My social-awkwardness made friendships difficult to manage at younger ages. It didn't help I changed schools every 3 or 4 years. I remember one situation where I blew up a hand full of friendships at once... It was sophomore year and it was St. Patrick’s day and George Carlin happens to be one of my favorite stand up comedians.
“Where's so and so?” (I forgot his name)
“So and so went to the St. Patty's parade.”
“That shit is so stupid, you didn't get to pick your nationality being born just like no one can pick what color hair and eyes they have.”
“Yeah but it's good to be proud of your heritage”
“Yeah but it's also good I didn't shit my pants today, but I am not parading. You might as well be proud of having blue eyes and blonde hair!”
Today I can see where I went wrong, my friends felt that nationality and heritage did dictate who they were, while I felt what you believe is who you try to be and you can't try to be Irish... This back and forth would be the end of at least 5 friendships. Shallow thinking, no? Well kids will be kids! Live and learn! I didn't care I lost 5 friends because I learned a hundred more lessons by losing friend than by having them. I didn't care because I there are so many people in this world, why should I have to stress the relationships I am having at 14, 15 years old? Seems crazy. A great lesson, from losing friends, being that when people put their heart to an argument they won't let you win unless they have opened their heart to you before. Another lesson was: taking things to their 'core belief' is only going to be applicable if the core is understood by both parties. While I tended to believe I cannot know anything anymore, others would have never rationalized that... they were teenagers! While I thought I couldn't know shit, they thought they could know everything. Something in retrospect I came to accept that even mature adults behave that way, which is sad.
Every time I remember the moment of that truck hitting my friend, I remember my mortality and critical thinking complex. Sort of. I remember that I should look past thought and logic and consider the details of reality as being just important as the ambiguous considerations. You can truly learn anything from a stranger, whether it is purposely or not, consciously or unconsciously.
Reality is a rainbow in a corny sense. If you look at it in black and white, you create gray areas and you miss out on a lot. Look around you, what you see is a world built by the hands and minds of others, many you will never know or hear about, but they had the same thoughts and ideas you had/have intrapersonal-ly. The differences reside in the details not in the persons. “That's not purple it's plum!”
When I was watching my friend lay on the floor, and as his mom came, the ambulance came, and in thirty minutes the street looked like nothing had happened. It just sparked me to think existential about EVERYTHING, which in this culture and society makes you an outcast...
As a thirteen year old kid I had asked my dad what dying was like to get the response of “heaven” and clouds. I am not denying anyone their beliefs but Jesus didn’t teach about the kingdom of heaven being in the sky or after death. He taught to create a heaven on earth, heaven as a level of consciousness involving others, a place where we all live eye to eye for one another benefits. That is what A LOT of religious leaders’ taught, just with their own perspectives in relation to those times and geographic location, true story. Also what every major religion has at it's core - humanism.
Everything stated here, materialized from what I learned that day and developed over time with what I now learned is called “critical thinking”. Life is short, throw away the baggage that slows you down and smell the flowers. Talk to a stranger, and never be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Since that “change” I have always considered I do not know A LOT, and that is why it was benefitical my friend was hit, because if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t be the person typing this, I would probably be “normal” and that is scarier to me now than death. To be a person caught in a vicious circle, some call life, is depressing to me now. Life shouldn’t be lived doing the same thing everyday. I rather be an outcast as a smart-ass than a mindless follower of what's “cool.” Definitely rather be free than a social slave. A devil rather than angel, because these things only exist in conceptualization, otherwise, in another parallel universe, people worship devils and not angels, but the devils are described as our benevolent image of an angel. Life is relative, as it is subjective... Conceptualization who you want to be and rationalize how that is possible. Since that day, I became a philosopher, and til this day, I have only continued to improve my skills involved in philosophizing.
Not the best moment to be enlightened from, at such an early age... But, to recognize the entirety of a situation, makes even the most grim and sad moments, have a shining light of knowledge.