An existential tale

TUESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2004

One day, a long, long time ago, there was a man who lived just a stone’s throw from a very small village. Some people thought he was a giant. Others argued he was certainly a large man, but no giant. But that he was much bigger than the people in the village was obvious to all who encountered him.

This man … was a lonely man, because he lived alone and also because he … was different from the villagers. At times, his loneliness became unbearable – so unbearable that he could not stop himself from leaving his house to walk the few hundred yards through the dense forest to seek some companionship in the village.

When he did find himself in the village, he tried his best to make friends. But it was always a slow process. Although he was friendly, he could never hide the uneasiness about how different he seemed. He tried hard to convince people that he is like them. He wore clothing that was similar to theirs – or so he reckoned anyway, and he tried to talk about things about which they could add their own opinions or experiences. He also attempted to speak in ways that were similar to their ways of speaking, all in an effort not to alienate them.

All the inhabitants of this village lived in small houses, with small pieces of furniture, small doors, small windows, small chairs and tables, and very low ceilings. Every time the man visited the people in the hamlet, he had to bend down low to enter their homes. His butt hurt from sitting on their little stools, and sometimes he was somewhat clumsy at their small tables. He also hit his head against their ceilings, and his eyes burned from looking out their small windows. His back ached every time he walked home – from all the bending down, of course.

The structure this man called home – which he had built with his own hands – was much, much larger than even the largest house in the village. Compared to his house, the houses in the village looked like doll houses; compared to the houses in the village, his house looked like a castle. Of course, the man didn’t like talking about his residence. He knew, or suspected that the villagers would feel embarrassed about their own cramped dwellings. And the man never invited the villagers to visit his home because he feared alienating them so much that they would never want to speak to him again.

So the time went by, with the lonely, shy, gentle “giant” trying his best to be part of the community in whose midst he lived – even if it was a short distance away.

Occasionally, he allowed himself to dream that a young woman from the village might just one day look at him with different eyes, and just maybe come live with him in his magnificent home. But the months and, eventually, the years dragged on without any young woman of the village looking at him and seeing anything other than a somewhat ugly, bald giant.

This man started growing tired of bending down all the time. He got tired of all the low door frames and the low ceilings in the village residences. He got tired of trying to focus on the view outside the small windows. He even got tired of getting butt cramps from sitting on the little chairs.

The “giant” wanted so much to stand up straight just once, in the middle of the village where everyone could see him, and then bellow out to all an invitation to visit him – at his home, his castle. He wanted to show them who he truly is. He wanted to explain to them where he had come from, why he is different from them, but also that he is just a man.

He knew he would have taken a considerable risk in doing so. The villagers were so used to their own houses, their own little doors, their tiny windows, their own small pieces of furniture and their low ceilings that they would have become anxious in the big castle. The big, heavy door would have scared them. The high ceiling would have caused them to grasp one another in fear, and they would have felt terribly small in his grand old chairs, sitting by his gigantic table. Finally, they would have gotten dizzy in the head from the enormously wide view from his huge windows.

People would have run away from him and his castle. They would probably never have wanted to see him again, and they would certainly have felt awkward if he had sought their company again in their tiny little hamlet. Never would he then have been able to convince a young woman from the village to come and live with him!

Still, the man was tired of bending down all the time. For once, he wanted to stand upright. Just one time he wanted the villagers to see him for who and what he truly was; to see the man he saw when he looked in the mirror.

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A few points on Monday, 18 October 2004

The search for identity is hampered from the beginning by the limited set of options available to you.

* * *

I do not believe anymore in what I used to call “revolution” [abandoning my life in Taiwan and moving back to South Africa]. I believe in sticking with the current structure, gradually reforming it, and creating something better with what I have.

* * *

I grew up with the God of the Rich, who tests you with poverty and rewards you with wealth. How would the God of the Poor do it? Test you with wealth and reward you with poverty?

* * *

My lowest point on a Monday arrives nowadays during my 16:30 to 18:00 class. Today, however, I had a reasonably peaceful 90 minutes with the seven year-olds. And the class was peaceful not because I was suddenly hit by positive thoughts – in fact, my thoughts were about my parents and how things have still not completely worked out for them after twenty years.

That lead me to the thought that despite our tendency to choose hope over nothing (followed by physical death), you sometimes have to admit that “things” do not always “work out” for everyone – this may not force us to go so far as to give up on hope, but it still stands as a verifiable one-plus-one-equals-truth type of fact.

The thought then came to me how it appears that I have the same problem as my parents. That is when I made the connection between God and money – how it appears that those with money are rewarded with things working out and how those who are poor just keep hoping and believing that things will maybe work out for them as well.

I felt surprisingly peaceful after these thoughts, as if I had wanted to say these things for a long time, but perhaps I had believed I ought not to; that it would qualify as rebellion against God, punishable by the loss of my soul.

An hour or so later – after dinner, drinking a bubble tea opposite the coffee shop – I thought how it is totally acceptable to entertain the thought of the God of the Rich, and the Middle Class, because this god is in service of the rich and the middle class, and thus not the True God.

[Hope is a strange thing. Someone might raise his hand and say, “Look at my life. What if I am one of those people for whom things will never work out? Where does that leave me?”

My opinion is that I do not believe life is a script that we play out as puppets or second rate actors and then we die. If you are already of the opinion that things are not going to work out for you, then for all practical purposes you are taking a giant leap in exactly that direction.

Another thing: it’s not for nothing that my hero is the guy who continues to believe and who stubbornly clings to his hope even though he has a strong suspicion that the battle is almost certainly already decided.]

———–

“You basically have two choices: you can give up hope, feel hopeless and therefore ensure that the worst is going to happen, or you can have hope, and then try to realize the hope, and then there’s a chance that things will improve.” ~ Noam Chomsky

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Thoughts running wild during the 41st week of 2004

The 41st Monday (11 October 2004)

Question (just before the water boils, and just before I continue with FreeCell Game #4025): What work would I ideally like to complete before the last day of this month?

[…]

Well, the water has boiled, I have brushed my teeth, drank half my tea, smoked another cigarette, lost FreeCell game #4025 and in the process of also throwing #5039 in the water, ABBA is singing, “Does your mother know?”, and seeing that it is Monday in an autumn on the way to yet another Taiwanese winter, I am wondering: What if someone – a friend of mine if I have to be more specific – wants to move further on the temporal plain (meaning not on a more spiritual plain as understood in the popular idea of disappearing and becoming part of the Big Nothing), what would he need to do to become … shall we say, a Super Man?

Questions about why one would want to move on to “Super” level aside, I believe the following ingredients are essential: money, health, female companionship (seeing that my “friend” is a heterosexual man), and maximum time for his own agenda.

The 41st Thursday (14 October 2004)

15:20

Love is a matter about which much has been said; love is a matter about which not much needs to be said.

A character revealed himself to me recently: a man who has so far in his life not been a partaker in bountiful amounts of love. It is also important to mention that even the present counts among the times when he does not taste so much as even a bit of it.

Needless to say, love in this text is defined, not as the variety you get from friends and close relatives, but as the kind you feel on your skin before you go to sleep at night, just before you get up in the morning, when you make yourself another cup of tea in the evening, when you sit on the couch watching TV, when you get home from work, and when you go on vacation and have to be in transit for eleven hours between flights.

Of course, like most characters, this man has parents and siblings, and certainly he has some good friends. It can be said that these people love him, as he loves them. But this kind of love, as I have already pointed out, is not the kind you feel on your skin in a way you sometimes need it most.

Digging a little deeper, I can reveal that in his early twenties he did experience love of this nature. This period was, however, followed by a totally unplanned seven years of celibacy. (“Amazing how time passes,” is an often repeated remark of his.) Then, for a few months, the unmistakable scent of love was once again in the air, and on his clothes, and on sheets and pillowcases, even in the bathroom and the kitchen. But now more than two years have again passed into nothingness.

It is also necessary to indicate clearly that this love I am referring to is not confined to what is traditionally seen as sexual intercourse. It includes the all-important element of touch – holding hands while the two people are in a movie theatre, or watching TV. It includes a light brush on the shoulder late at night when one is busy … making tea. And it includes the few moments early in the morning when you feel the warm presence of another person near you, right after you realize another day is upon you.

This, then, briefly, is a description of a character who revealed himself to me recently – on a good day, the 41st Thursday of the year.

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Faith, hope, and love – and the emergency measures to make up for the absence of these things

THURSDAY, 14 OCTOBER 2004

On the train (09:22)

I now know that I have been losing my faith for the past several months – or, depending on how you look at it, the past several years: faith in the traditional “truths” of my youth, faith in people, faith that “things will work out”.

It is also true that many people abuse narcotics and other substances on a daily basis to combat this problem (amongst others), or to make up for the negative effects this has on their lives.

Other people, or sometimes the same people, (also) give themselves over to criminal activities to (once again) make up for the absence of (amongst other things) faith in their outlook on life, and to provide them with the entertainment, excitement and/or money to make their lives worth living.

I hate drugs. They make me dizzy in the head, and I suspect – and know in one particular case – that using drugs will make me even more anxious rather than helping me to relax. And I don’t want to embark on a spate of criminal activities.

So, my balls are hanging between a pair of scissors and a furious scorpion.

By the way, I’ve been wondering all this time what it means to say, “My life is not worth living.” After all, I still satisfy many of my needs every day, my work load is not too bad, and I don’t have pressing financial problems. What is the problem, then?

The problem – and I have never thought about it like this – is that a person needs three things (except for never breaking the greatest commandment namely to never be without money): You need faith, you need hope, and you need love.

I, “Brand Smit” live without love. I have been living in various degrees of faithlessness for ten years, and even the faith that I have carved for myself as my own in the past few years, is losing value – for me. The only thing I have to keep myself going is hope.

And hope without faith and love can keep Thanatos busy at the front gate for only that long.

Can a person survive – physically remain alive – without faith, without hope, and without love, and then also without drugs or entertainment to counter the painful absence of faith, hope and love?

I think … no.

If you do not have faith, hope, or love in your life, you will feel a strong urge to indulge in the abuse of drugs and/or to surrender yourself to any activities, criminal or otherwise, that can provide you with unceasing excitement and entertainment.

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A meandering thought

WEDNESDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2004

01:27

Monday afternoon at 16:45 the wording of a thought came to me. The thought upset me somewhat. I figured, I if still remembered the thought by 18:00 I can make a note of it at home (the idea hatched during a class). Not only did I still remember the thought, but the state of mind that had given rise to the idea was still present at the appointed hour.

Nevertheless, I was home, I could watch a little TV, work on the computer, listen to music … and I had a fresh, steaming box of shrimp fried rice to satisfy my appetite. The idea had still not been written down by the time I went to bed.

* * *

This weekend I will again make an appearance where I will stoop so low as to feel embarrassed about the growing hairlessness of my scalp. Yes, there I’ll be, bald headed, barefoot*, 33 year-old property-less, credit card-less, car-less, non-corporate, independent, unpublished “writer”.

I might just succeed in entertaining one or two ladies for a while with my intelligent and – seeing that I can’t manage to detach myself from the idea of arranging a date with one particular young woman – somewhat charming company. Before long, however, I will be pushed aside in favour of another male character who is so blessed to have hair on his head, and clothes in his closet in which appearances can be so much more impressive, and more in accordance with the fashion of the day.

I will therefore, after once again tying my shoes to my feet, rush back to the safety of my apartment that smells of loneliness and stale cigarette smoke. I might watch TV for a while, work on a project on the computer, play a few FreeCell games, listen to music, drink tea, and blow even more cigarette smoke at the walls and ceiling whilst contemplating the sustainability of my present life.

* [In Taiwan the custom is to take off your shoes before entering a dwelling.]

* * *

(Back to the penultimate notation)

This brings us to Wednesday at 16:26, almost 48 hours after the original idea – or the latest manifestation of an old idea, because a new idea it is definitely not.

* * *

Getting it, missing something … insights, ignorance … it’s all the same …

* * *

23:48

My life, as it currently stands, is not worth living, and I don’t have the necessary faith or conviction to make the changes to make it worth the effort.

I am losing my faith. I have reached the end of the road, and nothing at the end of it is as rosy as ignorance and blind faith.

I think of sex and money, as though I desperately believe that these are the ingredients that will make everything “different”. What does it say if that is my only remaining faith?

I hope to get up tomorrow morning, because I’ll be hungry and in need of coffee and a cigarette. I will go to my class because it will be less stressful than to pick up the phone and explain to the school that I don’t want to go. Plus, if I don’t make the effort to go to work, I will know the little red brick house that is the external structure and facade of my life is beginning to crumble.

Am I really close to an abyss? The funny thing is, I don’t know. I am like someone who is standing blindfolded on a pitch-black night on a steep cliff – I know the abyss is somewhere in my immediate vicinity, but I don’t know if it’s one or a hundred meters away. Why not? Because this state of mind has reigned in my life for the past … ten years? The only thing that kept this condition under control 15 years ago was religious belief.

I cannot discuss these things with anyone.

(We don’t always see the things that push us closer to the abyss. We don’t recognize the faces for the people they really are.)

* * *

Hope. Not even faith is worth anything without hope.

* * *

(Who can understand?)

This may sound strange, but I actually believe in the existence of God – I just don’t know who or what God is. One of the reasons for this is my lack of trust in people; no one who talks about God is credible enough in my eyes (though many of these believers are honest and good people).

I also don’t believe or trust handed down truth. Who am I to believe, after all? Protestants? Catholics? Muslims? Hindus? Jews? Everyone has their own agendas, and there are reasons why all these groups of “believers” embrace different “truths”, why they believe what they believe. Reasons good enough for them to believe, but not good enough for me. (Already Thursday 01:26)

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