Friday, May 23, 2008

Time Travel

Recent events in my daily life have caused me once more to reconsider the nature of friendship. The nature of regret. And some vague glimmer of a memory came to mind, which brought me eventually to this, from Jan 5 of this year:

I have certainly regretted the fact that I do not have access to a time machine. It's one of my fantasies. To be able to go back and give a younger me so much of what he missed. Or to go back as myself, to be myself, to live that life differently. Maybe you've felt it too. Seems like it would be a common wish. But it is, for me, only a fantasy. Even if it were possible, I wouldn't do it.

I have a son, you see. That means I'd have to know his mother at a precise time under exact circumstances. Otherwise my son would not have been born. There is no benefit worth that price. I know the day he was conceived. I could tell you the date. It was a Thursday. I remember the intimacies. But the conflux of time and place and biology could never be replicated. We are, all of us, unique to an exact set of circumstances, not just of conception, but in the smallest twitch of a butterfly's wings. The delay of seconds mount up to make the difference between a traffic fatality and a resented wait at a red light. Strange, how what is so random creates something so exact.

I would have picked some other family to grow up in. I would have chosen some other bride. At almost every point, I would have taken another path. It's not regret. It's analysis. I say I would have, but I use the word not in a subjunctive sense, but in its aspect of will. I would that it were so. If I could be active, though, in this, I'd still be passive. Because I have a son, and no factor that might interfere with his existence and his unique individuality can be permitted.

Life matters. Not just the abstract accounting of life, but the individuals. This fact is reflected in my religion. Jesus did not die for some impersonal humanity. He died for you. If he hadn't died for anyone else, he'd still have died for you. That's very moving, when we think about it. Such is the power that we all have, on a human scale. Not so grand a thing as dying, but sacrificing.

Last night it came to my mind. A few months ago, as I've referenced, some of the fellas where I roll decided to put some money together to help out a friend who got injured. I made my little contribution, and sort of asked that my name be kept out of it. I'm a low-profile guy. Well the fella made it a point to thank us individually -- so much for anonymity -- and he and I had a little discussion.

He said that he was very reluctant to accept anything, you know, pride and all that. I said he didn't really have a choice, not so much because of real-world circumstances, but because there's only one way to respond to acts of friendship, and that's to be gracious about it. He said something about not wanting charity. It's understandable. We're all like that. I said charity is what you do with strangers. This was an act of friendship -- where you come up alongside someone you care about, and stand beside them. There's no debt, in that. We lean on each other.

We always want to pay things back. We don't want to owe. We want to get even. But life is a bucket brigade. Something is handed to us, and we hand it along. Hopefully some good comes of it -- a fire will be put out. There is no getting even. There's only building up or tearing down.

So I am trapped. No time machine could rescue me from the pain of my circumstances and my choices. The anguish of a hellish marriage is more than paid for, though, by the fact that the product of that marriage was our son. You know something has value because it had a cost. The strongest emotion I have about my ex-wife is gratitude.

Of course we're time travelers. The wisdom we think we'd bring to the past is available right now, for the future. The child I once was that I would have held and comforted is with me still, in each of the people around me every day. The painful lessons that we'd try to avoid taught us whatever wisdom we have now, that we'd use to avoid the pain. It's not a paradox, not a dilemma. It's breathing in, and then breathing out. We must be stern, and we must be gentle. We must accept friendship and we must give it. We must forgive the people who hurt us, because we have caused hurt. We must love our children the way we were not loved. We must be like Christ.

Sounds like a good philosophy, right? I remember as a small child raving with distress over some persistent torment from my older brothers. I turned at last to my mother, who said, "It's easy to be good when nothing is wrong." I think about that a lot. She was right of course, but it was a rather unsympathetic response nevertheless. She was generally more softhearted, if not entirely effective. My point is that, yes, an uneventful life is peaceful. It's not likely to produce a strong character. My character isn't so much strong, as insanely stubborn. That's all the righteousness you'll get, from me.

I regret having been an instrument that somehow brought upset to people I have liked. There is no time travel, so I need not make any decision about whether I would change the offending cause. I have the very strong suspicion that I would not. The solution rather would have to be to speak, in some acceptable manner, if there were such a thing, those things, those serious things, that I have written. Because I cannot be inhibited, here. I will not be owned.

Not very Christlike. Or is it. Alas, no. My righteousness is only stubbornness. But I was just saying in another context today to my son, that I was a forgiver. Not everyone is. He said he wasn't. There's a part of me that's relieved over this fact. I wouldn't want him to suffer abuse.

It's about compromise. We do what we can. We do only what we can. We can't after all do what we can't do. The compromise is in accepting this fact. Otherwise we torment ourselves over it, like mad dog older brothers. Be perfect be perfect be perfect. But that's it. The in and out breathing. The gentle and the stern. The only way we can really be Christlike is in our striving to be righteous, and our striving to forgive. Where are we to find such power?

It irks me to say it. We find it in love. I'm trapped.



Anonymous said...

"The only way we can really be Christlike is in our striving to be righteous, and our striving to forgive. Where are we to find such power?

It irks me to say it. We find it in love. I'm trapped."

Robbed by the serpent, Gilgamesh knew regret. To strive is to regret.

We mythologize ourselves, thinking it is we who descend and ascend—perhaps not with everlasting life, but surely with love.

For mortal heroes, regret is nobly earned at the cost of their stolen love.

Possessing such knowledge, we must worship striving. We love our striving too much to rest in imperishable love—the one we cannot not own.

Yes, the trap is sprung.

Jack H said...

To love is to regret. Humanly speaking, of course. Or are we gods, who need not strive because failure is not a possibility?

Sufficient unto the day the troubles thereof. That sort of suggests that trouble is inherent in the day. All we can ever do is strive. If it were otherwise, there need have been no exhortation to be perfect.


Anonymous said... that you? You can't fool me.

Jack H said...

O ye of little faith.

Jack H said...

But, no, if I take your meaning ... that isn't me. C'mon. I only did that once.