A passing thought that helps us keep our lives in order

friends

A couple thousand of my closest friends. (Photo: Harold Knight, Feb. 18, 2017)

It’s 7:43 AM, and I’ve been up since 3:38 AM. I haven’t accomplished much. Played on Facebook, read a couple of heavy articles about – oh, about politics and other stuff I’ve promised myself to stop reading. You are thinking, I’m sure, that anyone who gets up at 3:38 AM is probably too tired to accomplish much. You’d be wrong. It has nothing to do with being tired. It has to do with being unable to focus. No, not because it’s 3:38 AM. Because. I’m wired.

A few minutes ago, I was unable to find my iPhone. Eventually I realized it was in the pocket of the jeans I wore when I walked to Kroger yesterday at about 3:38 PM (not exactly, but close enough for the sake of symmetry). At any rate, I have had no contact with my phone now for about 16 hours. I was asleep for only 5 of those hours, so the rest of the time I was plainly not interested in my phone. I retrieved it from my jeans pocket in the bedroom.

As I write at this moment, I have had no contact with another person since I was at Kroger, and that was light-hearted and, in the great scheme of things, insignificant. I was standing in front of the egg cooler with a door open, and a young man stepped beside me and opened another of the doors.

I turned his way in time to see the writing on the back of his T-shirt and inwardly chuckled. I found my extra-large eggs and went on to the yogurt counter. I quickly gave up trying to choose among the excessive variety – I didn’t absolutely need yogurt – so I turned away and there was the young man in his T-shirt. I could not resist.

“Excuse me, but may I ask you a ridiculous favor? May I take a picture of the back of your T-shirt?” He laughed and gamely turned around. I pulled my phone from my pocket and took the picture.

4:14 PM, my phone read (I don’t know why I remember that). Sixteen hours ago. The last time I spoke to another individual.

I wonder if Donald Trump ponders with the same amazement I do our individual lives as Homo sapiens. I’m not sure why I choose him to wonder about. Almost anyone 70 or older would do for my curiosity, but he looms so large in the consciousness of Americans, both those who love him and those who, shall I say nicely? don’t love him, that he is an easy sample demographic for my inquiry. Like Camelot’s simple folks, “I wonder what the king is doing tonight.”

The main reason I walked to Kroger when I did yesterday was I knew if I didn’t do something – anything that felt constructive – to get myself out of my apartment, I would be in deep trouble. In the morning I had participated in a demonstration by a couple thousand people in downtown Dallas protesting Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies. It was rowdy and fun, and I had a couple of interesting conversations with strangers. I amazed myself by having a good time and feeling energized about the possibility that the American people are going to refuse to be bamboozled into rejecting the message of the Statue of Liberty. (There, that’s all of the politics for now.)

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Me and a few of my friends, close-up. (Photo: Harold Knight, Feb. 18, 2017)

After I got home and had spent three or four hours alone, I was pondering not with amazement but with terror my life as an individual of the species Homo sapiens. One of the more terrifying aspects of my life is the possibility – no, the almost absolute likelihood – that my brain will plunge from the height of positive delight to the depth of the negative contemplation of killing itself, plunge seemingly in an instant.

I assume that Donald Trump has never experienced that plunge, as most people, I understand, have not. Or, perhaps, such an experience explains his seemingly narcissistic approach to getting through the flash-in-the-pan moment that each of us exists. He seems to be a person who should have no reason for that kind of precipitous experience.

When I arrived at home at about noon yesterday from the exhilarating protest, from feeling at one with 2,000 or so people (according to the lying Dallas Morning News), as I stepped off the elevator, the thought unbidden and untraceable came into my mind, “Did that really happen, or did you imagine it?”

Don’t get me wrong. I assume that’s the kind of bizarre notion that can pop into the mind of most any Homo sapiens  – a passing thought that makes us buckle down and  put our minds in order and helps us categorize the realities of our lives so we can call up memories and fit them into patterns that make sense.  Anyone my age whose mind never manufactures such notions, it seems to me, may be Homo (i.e. human), but they’re not sapiens (i.e. wise). Those thoughts are simply part of being a conscious human being, and the longer you hang around here, the more persistent they become. The trick is to hold them at bay well enough to keep the flash going in the pan as long as you need to in the natural order of things.

So I walked to Kroger because I have finally learned when those normal, natural, unstoppable realities of thinking seem likely to turn in my brain to something much more dangerous, to do something about them. I got to Kroger, not quite in tears, but almost. What, I was wondering, was the point of buying food to sustain myself when it was obvious that my life was not real and I was probably going to die before the day was over?

And then I saw the young man’s T-shirt. The negativity simply evaporated. Gone. I knew that he knew it was a joke, and when I asked him if I could take a picture, he knew I knew it was a joke, and we shared a moment of “reality” or something that I cannot explain, to which he probably did not give another thought. Or perhaps right now this morning he is telling his girlfriend about the funny old geezer at Kroger who asked to take a picture of his T-shirt. I’ll bet he told someone. And he and I together – who will most likely never see each other again – are pondering with the same amazement our individual lives as Homo sapiens, and he, without knowing it, got me through another one of those terrifying moments. Which is probably the only way any of us ever gets through one.

That’s why I was looking for my phone. To show you his picture.img_6280

2 Responses to A passing thought that helps us keep our lives in order

  1. Carolyn Channell says:

    This reminded me of a passage from Louise Erdrich’s novel Four Souls. Nanapush, the tribal elder says, “Each of us has an original, you see, living somewhere underneath the shadow of our daily life. . . . How can I tell you this? How can I make you see? Sometimes it is too difficult for even an old man, one who loves to sling words. Sometimes I have trouble with this thought—how this surface of life that tosses and shatters is not the real surface. How we are dreams, blasts, shadows, insubstantial gusts of motion. That this stub of a grain dealer’s pencil that moves across the page of paper is not real, either, and that the truth lies on the other side of even these words” (57-58). Perhaps this is why you write so late at night.

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