A Time Of Great Hurtling
Today is November 15th and I just randomly remembered that October 10th was a day on which, according to horoscopes and people who know such things, terrible things were supposed to transpire. I am unclear which terrible things, I just remember that someone told me that around that time. It seemed plausible. Terrible things transpire every day.
The memory of that came back to me today as I was climbing a set of stairs with a mop and three books in my hand, and it got me thinking about the nature of being alive on a planet hurtling toward something that you don’t really know what it is. All you know is that there is significant hurtling. “It was a a time of great hurtling,” one might say. (Please put that on a stone so that future generations my find it.) But then maybe great hurtling is just the feeling of living in a, what’s the word, society — which is to say a situation in which other people have a pretty large impact on your lived experience. As an annoying guy I tried to avoid in freshman year used to say, “Hell is other people.”
I came to the conclusion today that every problem, every discomfort we face is, in nature, either political, spiritual or some combination of both. The thought came to be during a conversation with my teenage son who is frustrating me by doing the thing most teens do to frustrate their parents: he is not being how I would like him to be. His shortcomings (as I view them) are not just to do with my hopes for him as a reflection of me. At this point there is very little of that left in the mix as I feel pretty satisfied reflecting myself. They have much more to do with what I view as his responsibilities as a man operating within an existing patriarchy. I think of the ways I want him to take responsibility, to recognize the labor of other people, to process and hold space for his and other people’s emotions, to relieve others of the need to care-take and coddle. I see these things as individual ways in which we as men can begin to disentangle from the toxicity with which we have been saddled. Problem is, he is not under my control. I can’t make him do what I want. It is a problem for me that is political in its content, but spiritual in its shape.
Most of us, I suspect, misinterpret Sartre’s observation that hell is other people. It does not mean other people suck (although it is my opinion that they often do). What I suspect it really means is that the mere existence of other people forces us into a relationship with ourselves that is torturous. What do they think of us? Why aren’t they doing what we want? What will happen if they don’t behave as we wish? I often think that what Sartre should have said was that hell is us and other people are just the express elevator down. I’m sure Sartre doesn’t care what I think he should have said, just as my son does not care what I think he should be like.
I am, of course, my own personal hell. My past is a kind of hell, a hell of regret and consequences, of things lost, opportunities squandered, things I loved that I no longer have. My future is another kind of hell, a hell of bad outcomes, worst case scenarios, chickens coming home to roost, etc. I once heard someone say “In the past I’m in regret, in the future I’m in fear. The present is the only safe place for me.” I haven’t seen him in years. I hope he’s alive and in love.
I guess October 10th is another day some of us survived. As is November 15, despite the occurrence of cataclysmic events somewhere in the universe on both of those days. My son will continue to be my concierge, kindly escorting me to my own personal hell, and I will continue to love him despite of it or perhaps because of it. I will continue to love you too. A great many of you, even the ones that, in my opinion, suck. In a world in which nothing makes any sense, loving seems to make some sense. I don’t understand it, but I don’t think I have to. It is just how it is. I guess it’s kind of a spiritual solution to all kinds of political problems. I guess it’s one small thing to hold on to amidst all the hurtling.