Crossfitting While Brown

I ‘CrossFitted.’ And I’m Brown. But I just didn’t CrossFit anywhere. I trained at CrossFit South Brooklyn (CFSBK). That is a crucial component of my “CrossFitting While Brown” experience. Being brown and chasing ‘elite fitness’ does not necessarily entail a conceptual clash between the two, but my personal insecurities and the cultural placement of CrossFit when I started at CFSBK back in 2009, ensured an internal discomfort that took some dispelling. CFSBK had a great deal to do with it.

Brown people, especially Indians, are not supposed to be athletic. We do not occupy such a place in the American imagination. The Indian immigrant has other stereotypes to conform to: the doctor, the systems analyst, the storekeeper, the motel owner, the taxi driver. He is typically skinny or just out of shape; he speaks with a comical ‘Apu accent’; he is better known for spelling bees; he does not play organized sports. I fulfill some components of the stereotypical Indian: I am a professor, I do math in my head, I talk about the books I read, I write books, I used to write computer code once; I’m a nerd; I fly my nerd flag proudly. I’m aware I’m not supposed to be strong or fast or athletic; those are not the images associated with ‘folks like me.’ I grew up with a legacy of athletic failure at both national and personal levels; it is how I view myself. My personal failure appeared embedded in a broader cultural failure ‘back home’; in my darkest moments, it became pure essentialism, driving me to find flaws in my genes. My sense of my body is very closely tied up with its failures. All of this suggested I did not belong in CrossFit, a place only for the very fit, the very strong, and dare I say it, at least back in 2009, the very white.

Then too, it was a time when I, as a brown man, thought better of my going to Crossfit because I had been warned about its ‘right-wing politics,’ its flirtations, or rather, its wholesale embrace of militarism and a problematic masculinity grounded in workouts that aspired to ‘fuck you up,’ ‘make you puke,’ and ultimately, like in those photographs that make the rounds, sprawled out on the floor in a puddle of sweat, ripped bodies heaving and gasping for breath. In post-911 America, to go to a gym dominated by hard white bodies, whose group photographs (those L1 certs!) and ‘CF main site’ pages were dominated by images of law enforcers (the guys who’ve never let me, and many others of a darker persuasion, feel at home in the US), or the military (which seemingly specialized in killing brown people with turbans, and which seemed to hate my wife’s Muslim community), just felt like a fraught decision. Still, I made the decision to sign up at CFSBK because I desperately needed to kickstart my fitness—and my associated downward headed head space—and because I trusted the woman friend who directed me to CFSBK.

I came to CFSBK with my baggage of being an unathletic brown man, one insecure about his bodily self-worth and about whether he belonged in its spaces. Once I began, every CrossFitting failure of mine, my failures to perform kipping pull-ups, handstand push-ups, or even the elementary forward roll, further slotted me into the category of athletic failures. My back injury, incurred a few weeks after I started at CFSBK, made it even worse. Perhaps I was not cut out for this ‘elite fitness’ business – genetically, culturally, ethnically. We are all racked by self-doubt and insecurity and a diminished personal image of ourselves (as Orwell once said, “every life, when viewed from the inside, is a series of small failures”); my insecurities were not any greater or any worse than others, they were decked out in a different form with a different affective content.

Every time I ‘failed,’ I felt I failed my entire demographic, a race, an entire people, and added one more datum point to the claim that brown men are unathletic. I would often wonder, “These folks must be shaking their head at this out-of-place brown dude, whose numbers are the lowest, his times the slowest.” It was a peculiar burden to carry, a weighty additional framing of what should have just been a workout. I did not want to be the sole representative of a large and varied group, but I found myself functioning as one—in my mind. I felt, keenly, that such was the spotlight turned on me. When I did ‘well’ in a workout, that is, I did not disgrace myself, I chalked another win up for my own, entirely personal, stereotype-dispelling project. (Variants of these exist in my other walks of life.) Every time I ‘did poorly’, I put one in the loss column. This was perhaps self-destructive, but it was an instinct, not something that I consciously took on.

This is a familiar tension for the immigrant, to be aware of the preconceptions that frame your presence in the spaces you frequent: you want your particularity to be noticed, but you also want to be ‘just like everyone else,’ to blend in, to not be noticed. When I stepped on to a CrossFit floor, I was aware of this fact. I was made aware of my identity when my lifting partners would ask me to repeat my name, when my accent made people ask me ‘where I’m from’ or insist I repeat a word which I had subjected to my idiosyncratic pronunciation. Sometimes the ƒQuestion of the Day would become fraught for that reason; I did not want to attract attention to myself, even as I sought to stand out with my own distinctive answers to questions like ‘what was your favorite television show growing up.’ (The real answer: live cricket games on other folks’ televisions; we didn’t have a TV till I hit eleven.)

But of course, my identity is not just that of a brown man or an immigrant. I’m a teacher, a writer, a metalhead and Deadhead, a pothead, a father, an immigrant, a New Yorker, a Giants and Yankees fan, and like so many others at CFSBK, just someone hoping to look better, feel better, live longer. These all found expression in CFSBK’s many, varied spaces. At CFSBK, I shared platforms with cops, Iraq war veterans, firefighters, doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, teachers, photographers, management consultants, actors, comedians, with black, brown, and white (and many other skin toned) folks. I was given a nickname and made some very good friends; my back injury was accommodated, and even given personal attention! I found my peeps at CFSBK in more ways than one. I was welcomed in all the right ways; CFSBK peeps laughed at my stupid jokes, my endless drug references, my silly dancing, they cheered for me during workouts, they counted my reps, they cheered for big lifts at the Strength Cycle Total, they cheered whether I came last or first (never!); heck, CFSBK even picked me as Athlete of the Month.

Eleven years on, I do not have the bulging biceps or boulders in my shoulders that the male Crossfit ideal has; I do not have a six-pack, and have resigned myself to a three-months-of-good-diet-and-regular-workouts-will-give-me-my-dream-body state (where we all are, really.) I still do not qualify as a ‘firebreather’ or a ‘beast,’ I did not become a member of the ‘competition team,’ I’m not among the strongest or fastest older men at CFSBK. But none of that seemed to matter any more at CFSBK. I had friends, among coaches and members, and I found a space for expressing myself, both physically and emotionally. CrossFit South Brooklyn made me feel at home. Which, as those who leave ‘home’ will tell you, counts for a great deal.

It is important to note that my sense of belonging does not necessarily transfer to other CrossFit gyms. I do not CrossFit when I travel. Perhaps some traces of my earlier associations with CrossFit still linger on; a workout is a space in which I feel I’m putting my body on the line, and I like doing so around people I trust. CFSBK was that place. I came to CFSBK as an insecure brown man, and in some ways, I remain one. But if I grew out of that self-conception at all, Crossfit South Brooklyn, ‘the house that David built,’ had a great deal to do with it.

Anxiety And Philosophical Inquiry

My essay in Psyche Magazine on the intimate linkage of anxiety and philosophical inquiry is online today.

Killing a Friendship Over Email

Modern relationships end in strange ways. Last year, a friend terminated a friendship with me over email. We had not met in over a year, and had been exchanging emails on trying to find a time and place to meet and ‘catch up.’ Arranging a meeting time with another ambitious New Yorker that works is an intractable task at the best of times; still, my friend and I, thanks to our emailing back and forth, seemed to have found a rendezvous space-time point that worked. But that meeting fell apart thanks to my parenting commitments, and as it did, and as I asked to reschedule, my friend accused me of inattention, of not reading our communications carefully enough. I quickly and briefly apologized, and stunned by the anger on display in the accusation of inattention and distraction, retreated into embarrassed silence. A couple of weeks  later, we ran into each other on the street, and found our conversation brief, rushed conversation–it’s New York City!–awkward and stilted. Having noticed that personal contact hadn’t helped, I tried again, over email, to reach out. But it didn’t; my email met with an another angry response; the relationship was well and truly over. Yet another attempt at reconciliation, hopefully in person, made by email contact, again ended in disaster, as I was accused of insensitivity and selfishness. I stared my email exchanges thread in some disbelief; there it lay, the forensic record of a relationship gone well and truly bad, down the tubes.

A year or so later, I’m still surprised by the speed at which an ostensibly ‘healthy’ relationship degenerated so quickly. My friend did send over a couple of accusations of self-centeredness on my part in our relationship, so the demise of our friendship was perhaps foretold, but I certainly had not been forewarned or been given a ‘call-out’ or a ‘heads-up’ to try to make amends. At the very least, as another friend of mine suggested, I should console myself with the thought that the friendship hadn’t been that great to begin with if all it took to end it was a ‘simple misunderstanding’ over email, one that did not even prompt a suggestion for a ‘conversation’ to sort things out. 

I’m inclined to think too, that the intersection of our extended email correspondence with our hectic modern schedules and commitments had some role to play here. The endless back-and-forthing, the desperate hunt to find a time-slot that worked, the mounting frustration of scheduling details, the pressure to try to maintain a relationship through making appointments, the irritation of feeling another email to be replied to mounting – I’m inclined to think that trying to maintain a ‘friendship’ in the face of this can generate a temptation to just call ‘the whole fucking thing off.’ It’s tempting to want to trim ‘friend lists’ in the face of scheduling pressures; only some make the cut in the face of the imperatives of limited time and energies.

No doubt, my personal faults, as pointed out by my friend, had something do with the demise of our friendship; I’m deeply flawed like we all are, and these flaws often exert a damaging influence on my social interactions. But they might have been tolerated in a different social and cultural setting, where, if we had enough time and space to attend to personal relationships, my friend and I might have been able to work on ours.

The American Republic Stands By For A 3-6 Shellacking

The American Republic, not content with having one election decided by nine unelected officials (Bush v. Gore, circa 2000), is gearing up yet again to have its Grand Prize, its esteemed (and very expensive) presidential election, decided by another unelected jurisprudential posse – the Supremes, all the better now for having replaced one punchy acronym RBG with yet another, ACB. Behold the republic, which venerates these esteemed Reviewers of Legislation and Settlers of Political Disputes. The Republican Party–including all its supposed moderates, centrists like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins–has already announced that it is committed to a ‘peaceful transfer of power,’ a state of affairs entirely compatible with a Supreme Court decision that awards the election to Donald Trump. This is a nation of laws, not men, and it is laws, not men and women, adult voters, that is, that will decide the fate of the American Republic. And some cherished, hoary theories of legal interpretation, all the better for having being vetted, and found suitable by the finest legal minds of this nation, produced by those bastions of political rectitude, Yale and Harvard.

Let’s face it; wouldn’t you want the fate of our great nation decided by people who have attended expensive prep schools, Ivy League colleges, and scored 180s in LSATs, rather than your average soccer mom, diner patron, rust belt worker, laid off disgruntled corporatist, and sundry other elements of that flotsam and jetsam known as ‘the American voter’? Why trust the voice of the people when you can trust the voice(s) of the Inner Chamber of Constitutional Deliberation?

America is going to go down 3-6; that much is foretold. The scoring will be opened by the Conservative Bench, and despite some valiant counterattacks and equalizers scored by the Ostensibly Liberal Bench, the Conservative lead will not be overcome when the referee blows his whistle. It was a good and valiant battle, but it was always fatally undermined by a historical amnesia, a wallowing in a misremembered past, one that insisted its Constitution was a masterpiece of political and moral spirit, as opposed to recognizing that it was a Rube Goldberg contraption destined to fail precisely when the slightest amounts of stress were placed on it, one reliant on norm-following by flawed humans. Those flawed humans are here, and they do not care to follow these precious norms.

But we will have the satisfaction of knowing that power was transferred peacefully, that briefs were filed, following the requirements of Federal Procedure, carefully specified in large tomes and treatises, intricate legal arguments were made, all the while extensively footnoted. Then some young bright law clerks, all of them recipients of that greatest prize of all, the Supreme Court Clerkship, will produce a gleaming 300-page ruling in PDF, that will certify the result. This PDF will be duly examined by the SCOTUS Blog and by many professors at our finest legal academies. Some might cluck their teeth at the reasoning on display, but their angst will never manifest itself in a rush to the barricades. The law will have triumphed, and the order and decorum of the republic will have been preserved. Even if the republic itself will not have been.

William James On The ‘Automatic, Therapeutic Decision’

In Existential Psychotherapy, Irvin Yalom, writing of conscious, directed, self-therapeutic change, writes of the ‘essential’ role of personal decisions and choices in ‘effective’ therapy, and invokes William James‘ five-fold taxonomy of decisions “only two of which, the first and the second, involve “willful” effort”:

1. Reasonable decision. We consider the arguments for and against a given course and settle on one alternative. A rational balancing of the books;
we make this decision with a perfect sense of being free.

2. Willful decision. A willful and strenuous decision involving a sense of “inward effort.” A “slow, dead heave of the will.” This is a rare decision;
the great majority of human decisions are made without effort.

3. Drifting decision. In this type there seems to be no paramount reason for either course of action. Either seems good, and we grow weary or frustrated at the decision. We make the decision by letting ourselves drift in a direction seemingly accidentally determined from without.

4. Impulsive decision. We feel unable to decide and the determination seems as accidental as the third type. But it comes from within and not from
without. We find ourselves acting automatically and often impulsively.

5. Decision based on change of perspective. This decision often occurs suddenly and as a consequence of some important outer experience or inward change (for example, grief or fear) which results in an important change in perspective or a “change in heart.”

So three kinds of decisions are seemingly ‘automatic’; they are made for ‘no paramount reason’ or ‘accidentally’ or ‘suddenly.’ But they should not, for that reason, be understood as ‘spontaneous’ or ‘uncaused.’ After all, they are made by a patient in therapy, someone that has decided to go to therapy to ‘become better’ or to ‘be cured.’ Change, or an acute desire for it, already stirs within such persons. When the decision is made, therapy has already taken place for some time; narratives of the lived life have been constructed and edited for clarity; ‘suggestions’ for therapeutic change have been made; tentative drafts of new self-constructing narratives have been offered for emendation and rewriting in the clinic.

In these circumstances, the patient/client is not a passive participant in the therapeutic process but an active dynamic one, albeit with levels of interaction with therapy that are not always explicitly conscious and available for introspection. These levels of interaction, in ‘producing’ decisions,’ act in much the same way as unconscious modes of problem-solving do, the ones that prompt the anecdotal observation that ‘mathematicians do all their theorem-proving while they sleep.’ The ‘therapeutic decisions’ which result should be cause for optimism; in the same way that writers, artists, and creators of all stripes press on through moments of ‘block’, trusting that their unconscious creative processes will work out for them in the end, moving them past points of turmoil and stasis in their artmaking, the patient in therapy can continue to strive, pressing on, trusting that within them, directed processes, even if not immediately apparent, of self-discovery, invention, and construction are under way.

Cover And Catalog Copy For ‘The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey’

The good folks at Temple University Press have a cover design for my forthcoming book, ‘The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: My Shapeshifting Journey.’

Here is the catalog copy for the book:

An autobiographical account of a cricket lover’s journey across nations and identities

The Evolution of a Cricket Fan: A Shapeshifting Journey

Samir Chopra is an immigrant, a “voluntary exile,” who discovers he can tell the story of his life through cricket, a game that has long been a presence—really, an obsession—in his life, and in so doing, reveals how his changing views on the sport mirror his journey of self-discovery. In The Evolution of a Cricket Fan, Chopra is thus able to reflect on his changing perceptions of self, and of the nations and cultures that have shaped his identity, politics, displacement, and fandom.

Chopra’s passion for the sport began as a child, when he rooted for Pakistan and against his native India. When he migrated, he became a fan of the Indian team that gave him a sense of home among the various cultures he encountered in North America and Australia. This “shapeshifting” exposes the rift between the old and the new world, which Chopra acknowledges is, “Cricket’s greatest modern crisis.” But it also illuminates the identity dilemmas of post-colonial immigrants in the Indian diaspora.

Chopra’s thoughts about the sport and its global influence are not those of a player. He provides access to the “inner world” of the global cricket fan navigating the world that colonial empire wrought and cricket continues to connect and animate, observing that the Indian cricket team carries many burdens—not only must they win cricket matches, but their style of play must generate a pride that assuages generations of wounds inflicted by history. And Chopra must navigate where he stands in that history.

The Evolution of a Cricket Fan shows Chopra’s own wins and losses as his life takes new directions and his fandom changes allegiances.

Children: The Familiar And Strange, The Known And Unknown

Parenting, and my relationship with my daughter, is persistently fraught by the presence of two seemingly incompatible states of affairs.

First, my child seems utterly familiar to me, the most intimately known person in our family: I was with her at her birth, and have been a companion and guardian since then, cleaning, bathing, feeding, escorting to school, playing with, teaching, comforting, advising, encouraging, ‘disciplining’ and so on. My daughter’s face, I have often said, seems to reflect my family album: sometimes, wistfully, I see glimpses of my father and mother; sometimes, I catch fleeting resemblances to cousins or nephews; on other occasions, miraculously enough, I see myself staring back at me. She is unmistakably, a recipient of my genetic material, a biological bond I have formed with the cosmos thanks to my relationship with her mother, and our joint decision to bring our child into this world.

And yet, for all of that, my child remains an utter mystery to me. To be confronted with her is to come face to face with the most profound question of all: Who is this person? When my daughter was younger, working through her terrible twos, her toddler stage, I used to  joke with my friends that while my daughter immediately took to her mother–the person who shared her body with her for nine months and then breastfed her for the next two–I had to ‘start from scratch’ and introduce myself, negotiating the parameters of a brand new relationship with a person who knew nothing about me. I could take nothing for granted in this relationship; I had, so to speak, to begin from the basement and work my way upwards, establishing myself as a presence in her life. Hopefully one to be loved and trusted. But it didn’t come for free; I couldn’t have it granted to me; I was dealing with an unknown quantity, as was she. And she is changing, in ways I cannot fully fathom and of course, cannot predict.

Most of this is utterly unsurprising to parents. Children, for their part, have long known that their parents are mysteries to them; indeed, when I think of how much my life had already transpired before my daughter met me,  of the little dribbles of information with which I seek to inform her of the kind of person I was, am, and am trying to become, I feel utterly defeated. As an immigrant parent, this task is particularly intractable. I will remain a mystery to her.

The nature of this relationship broadly understood is not radically dissimilar from that we enjoy with our lovers and friends: the most intimate of relationships is revealed to have acute perplexities at its heart, which have inspired countless poetic and philosophical flights of fancy: the encounter with another subjectivity, when we look into the eyes of the seemingly utterly familiar and find instead, the greatest mystery of all, one that we have merely deferred from our interiors to the external, and which serves to remind us of the task of discovery that waits within.

Mark Twain On The ‘Growing’ Wisdom Of Our Parents

Mark Twain is famously said to have revised his assessment of his parents’ wisdom:

When I was seventeen I was convinced my father was a damn fool. When I was twenty-one I was astounded by how much the old man had learned in four years.

Twain’s words speak to a crucial perspectival aspect of our life: our critical judgments are a function of our lived lives and experiences. We appreciate our parents doubly, if not many times more, when we finally become parents ourselves; we realize what their parenting experiences must have been like in their own complex particularity. The people we thought were experts (or sometimes,  less kindly, bumbling fools) were fumbling around themselves, learning the tricks of the parenting trade on the fly, making it up as they went along, sometimes getting it right, sometimes not. We realize how little we knew of them, just as we later realize with a start that our children know very little of us and will live their lives largely free of our presence and inspection and evaluation. We realize too, like Twain, that while our youthful impatience often led us to condemn our parents’ bumbling in matters that seemed straightforward to us, we did so because we did not understand the full dimensions of the problems that perplexed them. The facile solutions we had imagined for our ‘life problems’ had already been considered, rejected, and moved on from by our parents; we must, despite our reluctance, follow in their footsteps. That imperfect solution that so enraged us when we were young now strikes us as a masterful compromise, a skillful navigation between the Scylla and Charybdis of competing moral and parenting imperatives; we can only see that now because we have grown and learned and realized it as such. 

Twain notes too that the more we know, the more we realize we know very little. Moreover, our knowledge now makes our past more ignorant, and our assessments of the ignorance of others ever more flawed. By learning more, we realize how little we know and how much others know. This is especially true of academics who lose confidence as they progress through their PhD; gone is the cocky undergraduate who thought he knew everything; in his place stands the modest and humble grad who has learned how vast human knowledge is, how insuperable its problems, and how much everyone else knows in the fields in which he did not pursue further study; he learns that in his chosen field, many have explored its furthest reaches with diligence and creativity. We realize we have shrunk while the world has grown; the road we have set out on speaks of no end. 

Youth is wasted on the young; the wisdom of this claim is never more apparent than when we realize how we muddled around in our fogs of misconceptions and ignorance, even as it is true that while we are young, we were aware of truths we forget as we grow older. 

Philosophy Department As ‘Houses Of Healing,’ Not ‘Houses Of Production’

In ‘Two Pedagogies for Happiness: Healing Goals and Healing Methods in the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas and the Śrī Bhāsyạ of Rāmānuja,’¹ Martin Ganeri (citing Paul Griffiths) writes:

[T]he root metaphor for scholastic intellectual practice is that of reading. The scholastic is one who is dominated by the text he studies, transformed by the text, and the scholastic institution is best described as a ‘house of reading.’ In contrast…the root metaphor for contemporary academia is that of writing. The contemporary academic is concerned with the production of texts, with getting things out in print, with being cited and getting academic credit for  his or her compositions. The university becomes a ‘house of production’ rather than a house of reading.²

….The scholastic approach challenges us to retrieve the idea of philosophy as transformative and pedagogical reading and to retrieve the idea of philosophical institutions as houses of this reading, so that they can also be houses of healing,houses for happiness.

The idea of philosophical institutions–like academic departments–being ‘houses of healing, houses for happiness’ is entrancing. As is the suggestion above by Ganeri of ‘retriev[ing] the idea of philosophy as transformative and pedagogical reading.’ I note this with some poignancy; when initially I began my graduate studies in philosophy I had hoped for philosophy to be ‘healing’ and ‘transformative’ and indeed, therapeutic. But I was, all too soon, consumed by the idea of academic philosophy being the business of writing and the prolific ‘production of texts.’ Indeed, the most common complaint from academic philosophers–a curious one, you’ll agree–is that they never have time to read anything, because they are too busy writing. Most academic philosophers will proudly claim they have no time to read fiction; if you are spotted reading something not directly academic, it is not unusual to be asked, “What are you reading that for” i.e., Which text being generated by you requires that ‘unconventional’ text as raw material? (I was once asked this because I was carrying around a copy of C.P Snow‘s ‘Two Cultures.’) 

Many are the academics who would like to slow down and ‘just read for a bit’; read all those ‘classic’ and ‘great’ authors and texts they refer to, chase down those footnotes to those beguiling sources that promise further exploration of a tantalizing corner of inquiry. But no one has the time–they need to write, to publish. They don’t have time to read your work in progress, which is why I always thank, profusely, those who do make time to perform this noble task, and they do not have time to read outside of their narrow field of specialization. And they most certainly do not have the time or institutional and disciplinary incentives to think about pursuing philosophy as a transformative and therapeutic process. All of which is, in a crucial sense, a betrayal of the promise of philosophy, its notion of unbridled inquiry, its potential to aid in self-understanding-and-construction.      

Notes

  1. In ‘Philosophy as Therapiea’ – Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement #66
  2. Paul Griffiths, ‘Scholasticism: The Possible Recovery of an Intellectual Practice,’ in Scholasticism: Cross-cultural and
    Comparative Perspectives, pp. 201-235.

Kierkegaard On Being Educated By Possibility (And Anxiety)

In The Concept of Anxiety, Soren Kierkegaard writes

Whoever is educated by anxiety is educated by possibility, and only he who is educated by possibility is educated according to his infinitude. Therefore possibility is the weightiest of all categories….in possibility all things are equally possible, and whoever has truly been brought up by possibility has grasped the terrible as well as the joyful. So when such a person graduates from the school of possibility, and he knows better than a child knows his ABC’s that he can demand absolutely nothing of life and that the terrible, perdition, and annihilation live next door to every man, and when he has thoroughly learned that every anxiety about which he was anxious came upon him in the next moment-he will give actuality another explanation, he will praise actuality, and even when it rests heavily upon him, he will remember that it nevertheless is far, far lighter than possibility was. [Chapter V, ‘Anxiety as Saving Through Faith’)

All too often in this ‘profound and byzantine’ work¹, Kierkegaard is elliptical. Here, he hits a sustained note of lucidity. That ‘all things are equally possible’ – especially from the standpoint of human uncertainty, epistemic limitation and capacity – is a truly terrifying thought; for we know that within ‘all things’ are truly included all things, good and evil, painful and pleasurable. There is no limitation here, save that of logic and that of conceptual imagination. Monsters lurk here, as do angels. Here, indeed, be dragons. To grasp the terrible as well as the joyful here is to grasp that life is not bounded normatively or physically by these; there are no boundaries beyond which the terrible cannot advance, no wall that can hold it back; there is no specified interval for joys to last, they may be as fleeting and ephemeral as the lightest of our quicksilver fancies.

To be educated by this knowledge, to be truly educated by the journey here, one must plumb its depths, and soar into and above its heights. Here anxieties acquire shape and form, crystallizing into fears; here, within the space of possibility, as we look around at its curling edges we see abysses lurking–these indicate the limits of our imagination, beyond which monsters worse than the ones our minds have been able to conjure up find their abode. 

To retreat from this space into that of actuality, the lived empirical life, is to arrive suitably chastened by the realization that we had ever dared demand from this world any consolation whatsoever; we learn to give thanks for the spaces of possibility that have been realized in our lives to our favor; this actual, realized, world for all its terrors, is still less onerous than the world whose contours we had so vividly and powerfully sketched as we traversed the spaces of possibility. It is our memory and our understanding of possibility – another name for anxiety – that weighs us down in the actual; the closer we look possibility in the face–as the Stoics too, urged us to do–the more of a home we find in actuality, which for all its terrors, is still only a subset of the possible.   

Notes: 

  1. Gordon Marino in the New York Times
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