It has been pretty heavy this burden that I’ve been carrying lately, and things have been quite harsh and unforgiving. But then again, when you look at my life beginning from my childhood days up until this present day, you would see and recognize the same pattern, the same theme, that have been dominating this life.
Sometimes I think maybe we are fated to chase this lost object situated between the extreme polarities of pain and pleasure. Maybe we are condemned to repeat the same cycle throughout our lonely lives. Maybe, just maybe, we are cursed to this pursuit just as much as we are cursed to our doomed destinies, and our only chance at happiness—if such a thing really exists—lies in our momentary experience of the extra-human; of the other side.
Sometimes I feel it when I look at the city view from the sixth floor of the university; when I fumble for words at the sight of the sunset and how it bleed in colors which I have no name of; how people and voices blur in the background and merge into the silhouette; how I wish it was a different person I was speaking to. Sometimes I feel it when I feel things all at once: that sharp and unpredictable prick in the heart, speaking for itself to you in a completely ethereal language, convincing you of what lies beyond us.
Religion has a word for it: heaven. Sometimes I would like to believe much more than that. A world that is completely beyond our language, beyond our grasp; that the mere concept of such a world would render it defeating or negating. It is a world that we do not know, but it is always there. And if I let you annihilate the last sentence, please do so. And then I shall fall silent and let all language retreat and run back home.
Without words, I could only feel the sweeping passage of Time, this haunting reminder that we only have a few months to spare (if we’re lucky enough), and that the five four years almost feel like a dream and nothing more.
December—the syllables run dry through my palate, my screaming tongue. I want it to be over, but I do not want it to end.
Last Friday in Philosophy of Religion class, the professor related to us once again a story from his youth. His preface to the tale has had me scouring my memories for the same story as I remembered how he has told this to us before, a few semesters ago.
The story began when my the professor was a young lad studying at the seminary at the iron insistence of his father. One day, his father invited him to have lunch at a fancy restaurant somewhere in the city. His father’s request confused the hell out of him. In his curious mind, he wondered why he and his father would dine in some expensive place for no reason at all other than to talk to each other. How important or urgent the subject of their conversation was beyond him. All he ever knew was the weight of the demand of his father to speak seriously with him.
They drove to the city, to this fancy restaurant which for the young man has turned into a kind of symbol for his father’s enigmatic command. When they were finally seated, his father ordered what could almost pass as a buffet. The young man helped himself to all those sumptuous dishes. And it was in between the forks and the plates and the wine glasses that his father cracked his bursting question.
“Do you believe in souls?”
The young man was both surprised and repelled by the unanticipated question. What kind of a question would his father demand him an answer to and how would his father expect him to respond when in fact it was upon his father’s insistence (and not upon the young man’s will) that he was schooled in the seminary. Is not the seminary already an answer on its own to his father’s unforeseen question? His father went on:
“I do not believe in souls. I would like some evidence. I’ll tell you this: when I die and I come back, then you will know that souls exist. But when I die and do not come back, then you will know that there is no such a thing as a soul.”
I could only imagine the kind of damage, demoralization, it did for the young man’s mind to confuse death into a simple but rather empty dichotomy. A question—at first too simple, too casual, but later on carried on too much baggage within it. A question we simply have no answer to, not in the present and not even in the next world.
Time carried on and his father died, leaving him with the freedom to move out of the seminary and to pursue other paths of his interest, in which case was philosophy. The rest, as they say, is history.
I could see the traces of time on the wrinkled face of my aged professor; the slight glint in his eyes as they search for some faded event, the way his expression give off a hint of loss for a memory that has been too familiar that it sounded almost like somebody else’s. There was no crack, no yielding in the professor’s voice when he told us,
“My father has not returned.”
He went on to tell us that perhaps we humans never really have souls, that if we really did have souls then why has not one single soul ever returned and told us what kind of life there is in the afterlife. Being the good old materialist that my professor was, he was fairly convinced that we only have this body, this corporeal reality, this living present.
I imagine those souls—all seven million of them and perhaps even more. I imagine them trapped somewhere, caged by something else other than the human body. I imagine my professor’s father, shedding river of tears in some far off limbo, screaming to be let out and to come back to Earth with resolute answers to a question he left to his son years and years ago.
On the other hand, I imagine a different ending. I imagine those souls purged off of earthly memories, remembering nothing of the lives they led or of the people they met, remembering no pain or no pleasure or no language at all. I imagine their minds, clean as a freshly laundered sheet. And in the next world, nothing could ever stain or smother their pure, feather-like innocence, for they are no longer human there.
I imagine paradise as a kind of lacuna where no words, no violence, could trample the presence of what is always already there.
Maybe this is what Death is: as effacement, as forgetting.