The Worst Lesson

The worst lesson I ever learned came in sixth grade when Mr. Fabiano, trying to help a nerdy kid get beat up less, taught me the word “stoicism”. No, the worst lesson came when Mr. Hansen, in eighth grade biology, taught us about homeostasis. No, the worst lesson might have been in the Tao, the part where it talks about being a pole in the middle of a stormy sea, water churning around you as you stand still, unflinching. Then there is Kristina in college, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight of a sunrise, running towards it with her arms open, as if she could catch it, or imbibe it, or somehow stretch wide enough to embrace its entirety.

This essay is not about that.

It’s not about whether or not to react to the world, whether to engage it or stand stoic and separate. There is no available option for stopping. As Galileo said of the universe on his death bed, “It moves.” All of it. Each of us too. No, this is about the building and the signpost and the ledge we choose to stand on each morning, and what we wake ready to dive into. We welcome this conscious world to prove to us, each morning, what we already believe. The day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy. And for those people who made better choices than myself today, I have envy.

I see one of them each day, awake at the pillow believing this world is a positive place, that the people in it are good and kind, that life is driven by a powerful thrust forward, and that the heart is a deep well of joy that can feed everyone. That annoying happy colleague. That clerk at the grocery store who is way too chipper to be to work by five. The ticket taker at the counter whom I would not have met had I made my first flight. Who is he to be so overjoyed, to be making everyone else smile and laugh so heartily?

And I see the cynics, the ones who are sure this world is made of ore and stone which must be futilely pounded every day. I see the oppositionists, who prove by their living that the world is separated into rich and poor, good and evil, worthless and worthy. I see the defenders, who put up walls around whatever their lives hold, and keep in all in their fort, willing to kill or die for both their nutrition and their garbage. I see the centrists, who never quite bought into the sun being the focus of the solar system, the sun being so far away from them. I see the cause-heads, who have one lens, and wait for the world to show its inherent flaw, its lack of any willingness to fight for this, our most important issue. I see the pushers, who won’t stop until everything is changed, and the consumers, who take, and take. I see the apologists, and the back-stabbers, and the martyrs. And I am more frustrated with myself than by any of them

Just stop. We all need to stop.

For one day. Don’t move.

Don’t buy anything. Don’t sell. Don’t run away. Don’t reboot, refocus, reload, recommit, reinvest, reembellish. Stop. For God’s sake Galileo.

I’m tired of moving, of feeling, of fulfilling everyone’s unproven philosophies. I’m ready to pop. And if the universe keeps filling up, keeps inflating, keeps bursting at the seams, if we keep having more and more to choose from, if I have to carry this all inside any longer, I won’t survive.

The most reliable way to fix a computer is to restart it. This wipes out any running processes. It allows the kernel to start fresh, and for a little while, everything loads smoother.

This world is not inherently flawed. The Buddhists don’t have the answer. You can’t work your way to happiness. Drugs are neither demons nor doorways. Surrender will not save you. We are not the greatest country in the history of the world. Your team is not number one. Science, and the ever expanding library of human knowledge, will neither obliterate us nor offer an escape. We are not better off with or without the seals.

The worst lesson I ever learned was that “the day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy”. I’m not sure where I picked it up, or who taught it, or what Legos I pieced it together from. I can’t stand Mr. Ramsey for putting in my head that life is either a struggle between man and nature, or man and man, or man and himself. I hate that Professor Haffar taught us the concept of false happinesses, that someone who felt joyful, while in actuality being oppressed, should be taught about their oppression.

Somewhere in there I was an open-hearted boy. And the world came easy to me. And when someone made fun of me, or struck me, I cried. And I felt the force behind a waterfall. And the pangs of true love. And the smack of a bumper to a bumper when I forgot to pay attention. And I felt music. And I felt my great grandmother’s ancient, dry hands. And I felt death. And I cared. And I knew it would be over soon. And I couldn’t imagine living past eighteen.

I can’t say this thing. I used to be able to say this thing. But, whatever I woke this morning to prove just won’t seem to come to me.

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