Joy and “The Aleph” / There is a Light and it Never Goes Out

(N.B: My apologies for this being a relatively long read, but yeah, it is what it is; I could have saved it for the afternoon or late evening instead of 4 a.m. on Sunday to write it, but its surprising immediacy is part of the point. And besides, we all know I’m usually awake at this hour.)

One of my favorite short stories is Jorge Luis Borges “The Aleph,” from the 1949 collection of the same title. Without getting into the non-metaphysical part of the plot — which alone reveals so much about the ability of humans to be simultaneously base animals and transcendent beings focused on the Infinite, but I’ll let you read it for yourself —what always stuck with me was the very concept of The Aleph, which Borges describes as a “point in space that contains” all other points. A singular infinite unity of time, space and Being in which past, present, future, the entire universe and all other universes exist simultaneously and always. It’s an incredibly powerful concept that I’ll get around to in a future essay when I’m up to writing about recent major developments in my theological/theosophical/philsophical views (@LanceFR — looking forward to discussing this), but let’s save that for another time. I mention the latter because that development has been a significant part of what is about to follow.

I mention “The Aleph” not to show off my literary pedigree (okay, maybe just a teensy bit), but more because of the epiphany I just had made the concept come immediately to mind — in other words a total convergence in one instant of so many disparate threads of my life — so many bits and bites (no tech folk, i literally mean “bites”), slivers and slices, presents/presences and absences  — I’ve been so desperately and abjectly failing to weave together.

Lost yet? Good.

First some context:

Many of you know I’ve had a serious history of depression and to be quite honest, persistent anhedonia. I have done all in my stubborn best to aid and abet said emotions or lack thereof. And by history, I mean pretty much my entire adult life, like since from age thirteen. I’ve spent the last few years exploring the deeper and darker reaches of this particular tunnel, coming a few times to the place where one loses faith that light exists. Not to get into too many details (though if anyone wants to know, it’s something I don’t mind talking about. My life is an open book), but the point where seriously wondering what’s wrong with me and why I can’t feel happy like other people became my constant companion, my “dark passenger” — to borrow from Dexter (c’mon it’s me guys, you knew there had to be a pop culture reference in here somewhere). Not to be overly depressing (as this is a post about joy, which we’ll get to), but I’ve been tightly-wound, shy and overanalyzing in all respects. Until recently, I could only say with few and fleeting exceptions that I’d ever even felt basic happiness, and never simple joy.

It’s only in the past several months, after going through the worst summer of my life in which I spent way too much time in the hospital (apologies to those who have been there extensively for actual physical issues rather than just stupidity), I’ve slowly and inexplicably found myself rising out of it. I guess the simplistic way to look at it would be — to make Nietzsche roll in his grave, “Once you and the abyss gaze long enough at each other, you either fall in or start to look away.” Maybe it’s because I’m not getting any younger (not that I think I’m old, just to clarify the point) and am just tired of living this way. I hope many of you who’ve known me for some time have noticed this. In the last four months alone, after making it through that ordeal, I’ve had so many of those basic life things start to come together slowly. There’s been a dim light at the end of that tunnel, flickering or barely visible depending on the day. For example:

—I’ve learned how to be fearless and really not care what other people think of me.

—I’ve started overcome day-by-day my often-paralyzing social anxiety, and have surprised myself by reaching out to new people and ones from my past — to breathe life into the oft-neglected latter, nurture the present ones and to start to make new ones. It turns out that people are a lot less terrifying and kind than one thinks.

—I’m fully embraced my sexuality. I’ve been out for several years now, but until very lately haven’t been entirely comfortable with being gay (even though, come on, it’s not like it’s a secret haha). I’m fully at home with that part of myself now (I’ve told this particular story elsewhere.)

—I’m okay that people know that as a man, I’ve struggled with bulimia and body image issues for the better part of 15 years, and that I’m learning to keep it under control (there will another #longread about this in the future, btw). This is something only those really close to me probably knew about, but it doesn’t bother me that everyone on the Internet does. Confronting issues of eating disorders and body image disorders only happens if those of us who’ve been and who still are suffering from them are strong enough to be open about them.

—As aforementioned, I’ve developed faith again. It’s still in the process — and idiosyncratic — but in a city where there’s a church basically every other block, it feels good to admit that my beliefs are an evolving mélange of Theosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Manichaean Christianity. (P.S., this is what happens to lapsed Baptists and Catholics haha).

—I’m slowly learning to let my insecurities fall aside and just live in the moment.

—And, most recently, I’ve decided that career-wise, while law has been my apparent path for years now, what I’m meant to do on this earth is medicine. I need to be in a field that actively helps others and one that doesn’t allow me to play logic games with myself. There’s not much better a way to help others than by keeping them alive. =D Moreover, medicine is going to be a challenge, and it’s not one I’m fully confident I’m capable of. And that is truly scary, but if I’m not actively challenging myself, actively taking risks, I’m going to lose sight of this perspective that’s so new to me. I’m 27, and have zero pre-med classes to my credit, haven’t done lab science or calculus since high school, but the prospect of confronting that difficulty head-on is exciting to me. I feel extremely good about that decision. I did math problems for three hours tonight just to practice (N.B.: deep breaths Ben, it will get better). Not to sound arrogant, but my brain works in the sort of way that I could cruise through law school, land a good job and just keep cruising. I know I can’t do that. I need the challenge, mentally and emotionally, to exert all my energy in keeping people alive.

—Finally, I’m slowing learning to forgive myself for all the times I’ve hurt those for whom I care, all the stupid stuff I’ve done, the pain I know I’ve caused, the so many mistakes I’ve made. I own them and they’re mine for the rest of my life, but I’m learning to forgive myself. If anything, it may take a long while of me beating my thick head against a wall, doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result; yet I do eventually learn. Once I do, I don’t make that mistake ever again.

All of which brings me to the point of joy and “The Aleph.” These pieces have been floating around me lately, but had yet to actually click. And tonight, I fell into bed completely mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted, hadn’t slept in three days, and then couldn’t fall asleep. I was just lying there with my thoughts racing at the speed of light — seriously if there was a transcript of my inner monologue (thankfully there isn’t haha), it would be a complete word/image/sound salad, just complete gibberish. If this makes sense, all I could do was lie there just sort of watching — if you will — this comet of non sequiturs and nonsense blow through my synapses. I seriously thought my head was going to explode; that familiar feeling of panic and anxiety that leads down the road to bad thoughts started to build up on the horizon.

This time, I tried something different. Got up, got a glass of water, snuggled with Ser Clarke the Half-Hand (front-declawed, even though I didn’t do it to him, and I had to fit a Song of Ice and Fire reference in here somewhere) and tried instead to think about all the good things that can happen if I’m willing to make them happen. Instead of frantically watching my thoughts and brain at 100% CPU capacity overwhelmed with analyzing my analysis of the analysis of the thoughts themselves, when my brain takes me down that Blue Velvet route, I just let them carry me through good things and bad things, just carry me. This is a run-on not-even-sentence for the ages, so English majors be kind: I started with the thought of walking on the shore of Lake Michigan (the beach there is my favorite place on earth), gulls squawking, waves crashing, the occasional abandoned crabshell or piece of driftwood in my way, then picturing finishing pre-med and applying to med school, snuggling with Clarkie, sitting around a table with friends past, present and new just laughing out on the balcony somewhere in some city under the same infinite sky, thinking about my next first kiss, first time waking up with said boy; I went through my entire possible life, my first book-signing, hanging out with said friends around a bonfire, again just laughing, telling stories, someone singing and playing guitar, the wedding of whichever of my friends is next, the tears of joy I’ll shed, my wedding and legally sharing a married kiss, travelling with said boy, my white lab coat ceremony, the first life I save, the first life I can’t save, the devastation I’ll feel when that happens, dancing with my mom at my wedding, losing my mom, seeing if my dad will be game enough to dance with my new husband (looking forward to this, actually) losing my dad, adopting, attending our daughter’s or son’s high school/college graduation, losing Clarkie someday, my sister’s wedding (if she wants one), getting new kittens, writing on the beach on Cape Cod with a salt spray and the blue eternity before me while said eventual boy busies himself inside, cuddling together on the beach, getting old and still laughing with friends new and old, watching a friend’s upcoming first film, seeing another friend play live, watching another friend’s victory speech, seeing my first Arsenal match… and this all happened all at once, moving backward and forward across the histories of myself and everyone I’ve ever known.

As David Mitchell wrote in Cloud Atlas, “Our lives are not our own, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” (The film is excellent, but please don’t substitute it for the difficulty of a transcendent read).

All of that to say that for the first time I can think of, I was filled with a sense of pure and undeniable joy, heartbreaking, beautiful, perfect joy, and it was the most wonderful feeling. It’s already begun to fade a bit, and I’m though under no illusion that I should expect a complete burst of such euphoria often, I will not forget it nor let it go. I truly believe we all live infinite lives, that we meet in various forms and places over and over again, throughout history, the future, and every conceivable present. Yet to exist — even briefly — in that moment was, for lack of a better word, the purest I have felt in this short life.

I know this may seem very sappy and self-indulgent, but it was such a powerful and new feeling that I felt compelled to write this, because sharing it was neither a given nor a possible option. Without you, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I feel the tunnel bursting into daylight and receding into the palace of broken mirrors. Seriously: each one of you I’ve known for years, am related to, know only through Twitter or YouTube; each visit in the hospital, text, phone call, RT, FaceBook “like” means the world to me. SItting here in my dark room, you’d never know it right now, but they all have meant the world to me and bring a smile, however wry, to my face. So thank you.

—Ben

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~ by Benji on 11 November 2012.

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