Be Here Now

Saturday mornings are for garage sales and NPR. Drive time during the week I listen to talk radio, but on the weekends that medium is given over to a grab bag of programs, such as quack medical cures. Last Saturday NPR interviewed a British author, Adrian something, who has just penned a novel dealing with memory, how our memories are fallible, how perhaps our whole notion of who we are is a fictive construct designed to make ourselves feel better. Adrian's brother, a philosopher, posits that all memories are either false or fallible. Bravo, Professor! What an éclat, an aperçu worthy of Emmanuel Kant. So everything we "recall" either did not happen or might not have happened. That just about covers it, doesn't it, Professor? Did you deliver yourself of an insight? Sorry, I may have been mistaken -- p'rhaps you were just clearing your throat. Or you may have had a particularly loud borborygmus.

I poked around in a sale -- or I think I did, that idea makes me feel better -- and got back in the car in time to catch an interview of another Brit, this one a female singer. They played a snatch of one of her songs about greyness and shadows with a three-chord strum. After a blessedly short clip the interviewer made so bold as to posit that some might find the song dreary, even depressing. "Oh, nah-ewh," replied the singer with her refined nasal "o," "I prefer to think of it as advocating that we not look back or look forward, just exist."

Just exist. There's another aperçu. Just exist. Like a paramecium or a snail, though even that comparison is unfair, for paramecia and snails spend nearly all their lives working, i.e., searching for food. Interviewers in these situations drool on the boots of their guests, bathing in the reflected glory of a very minor celebrity rather than challenging the vacuities they utter. Here's the kind of follow-up I should address to this depressed young thing should I ever have the opportunity to interview her:

The notion of being "in the moment," of "just existing," has become commonplace in our culture, accepted without questioning as worthy of pursuit. The idea was popularized 40 years ago when the Harvard LSD guru Richard Alpert, aka Ram Dass, published Be Here Now. I'm curious: have you spent any time around someone with Alzheimers? They are totally in the moment, unable to recall what they said or did just moments ago.

I have spent time with a retired doctor in his 90s. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, then attended Columbia Medical School. The last time I saw him he loved to show people a photograph album of his children. "Have you met my daughter Anne?" I would assure him I had, did not have the heart to say that we attended junior high together. "Here's my son Frederick. Do you know him?" I could not bring myself to say that he has been my brother-in-law for over 40 years. And on through the album. When he got to the end he would turn it over, open the first page and say, "Oh, here are my children. Have you met my daughter Anne?" After several turns through the album I would discover a dryness in my throat and excuse myself to get a drink of water.

The doctor was not suffering. In fact, his last years were possibly the happiest of his life. Obviously, he required constant supervision, could do practically nothing for himself, could not be left alone. But he was almost wholly in the moment, devoid of "pining for what is not," as the poet Shelley expressed it. So my question for you, Ms. Songster, is this: Is that the life you aspire to, that we should all strive for? To just exist?

Such are the unchallenged verities of our age. I've been revolving a new definition of homo sapiens: a bipedal primate mammal whose hunters and gatherers have become so proficient at securing sustenance that most members of the species need do very little to earn their own food, freeing them to ponder such imponderables as whether we can ever really know what we ate for breakfast.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

Saturday mornings are for garage sales and NPR. Drive time during the week I listen to talk radio, but on the weekends that medium is given over to a grab bag of programs, such as quack medical cures. Last Saturday NPR interviewed a British author, Adrian something, who has just penned a novel dealing with memory, how our memories are fallible, how perhaps our whole notion of who we are is a fictive construct designed to make ourselves feel better. Adrian's brother, a philosopher, posits that all memories are either false or fallible. Bravo, Professor! What an éclat, an aperçu worthy of Emmanuel Kant. So everything we "recall" either did not happen or might not have happened. That just about covers it, doesn't it, Professor? Did you deliver yourself of an insight? Sorry, I may have been mistaken -- p'rhaps you were just clearing your throat. Or you may have had a particularly loud borborygmus.

I poked around in a sale -- or I think I did, that idea makes me feel better -- and got back in the car in time to catch an interview of another Brit, this one a female singer. They played a snatch of one of her songs about greyness and shadows with a three-chord strum. After a blessedly short clip the interviewer made so bold as to posit that some might find the song dreary, even depressing. "Oh, nah-ewh," replied the singer with her refined nasal "o," "I prefer to think of it as advocating that we not look back or look forward, just exist."

Just exist. There's another aperçu. Just exist. Like a paramecium or a snail, though even that comparison is unfair, for paramecia and snails spend nearly all their lives working, i.e., searching for food. Interviewers in these situations drool on the boots of their guests, bathing in the reflected glory of a very minor celebrity rather than challenging the vacuities they utter. Here's the kind of follow-up I should address to this depressed young thing should I ever have the opportunity to interview her:

The notion of being "in the moment," of "just existing," has become commonplace in our culture, accepted without questioning as worthy of pursuit. The idea was popularized 40 years ago when the Harvard LSD guru Richard Alpert, aka Ram Dass, published Be Here Now. I'm curious: have you spent any time around someone with Alzheimers? They are totally in the moment, unable to recall what they said or did just moments ago.

I have spent time with a retired doctor in his 90s. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, then attended Columbia Medical School. The last time I saw him he loved to show people a photograph album of his children. "Have you met my daughter Anne?" I would assure him I had, did not have the heart to say that we attended junior high together. "Here's my son Frederick. Do you know him?" I could not bring myself to say that he has been my brother-in-law for over 40 years. And on through the album. When he got to the end he would turn it over, open the first page and say, "Oh, here are my children. Have you met my daughter Anne?" After several turns through the album I would discover a dryness in my throat and excuse myself to get a drink of water.

The doctor was not suffering. In fact, his last years were possibly the happiest of his life. Obviously, he required constant supervision, could do practically nothing for himself, could not be left alone. But he was almost wholly in the moment, devoid of "pining for what is not," as the poet Shelley expressed it. So my question for you, Ms. Songster, is this: Is that the life you aspire to, that we should all strive for? To just exist?

Such are the unchallenged verities of our age. I've been revolving a new definition of homo sapiens: a bipedal primate mammal whose hunters and gatherers have become so proficient at securing sustenance that most members of the species need do very little to earn their own food, freeing them to ponder such imponderables as whether we can ever really know what we ate for breakfast.

Henry Percy is the nom de guerre for a technical writer living in Arizona. He may be reached at saler.50d[at]gmail.com.

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