Tomorrow

Has ever such a simple word been filled with such hope, such longing, such terror and such fear?

Little Orphan Annie with her eyes towards the future spreads her arms wide, belting out the word. What joy and hope that curly red head inspired even to this day that a single word can inspire a song and the thrill of anticipation. With a glass half full, the future is a beacon and a boon. Promises not yet fulfilled are a thing of beauty so long as they remain unbroken.

But there is also the tomorrow of Macbeth, that poor, doomed, half mad man.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time…

– Act V scene 5, Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Has ever a word so encapsulated the monotony of plodding time without punctuation of passion? Time passes and passes swiftly by but without verve,  without emotion are we but zombies filling seats,  pushing paper,  dragging our way through for want of anything more.

What is tomorrow to you? Faced with these options, I think of Lewis Carroll ‘ s White Queen: “The rule is: jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today!”

The moral law

The good will is the will which acts from freedom and respect for the moral law.

-Immanuel Kant

I like Kant. I don’t agree entirely with his precepts, but I like them a lot overall. The moral law is an obligation that binds all people without exception. In other words, right and wrong is something outside of our individual standards and something that applies to all. From the perspective of a society, this does make sense. As a concept, this is referred to as the Categorical Imperative.

The Categorical Imperative really encompasses three major concepts: universalizability, human dignity, and reciprocity. Universalizability is similar to the “Do unto others” rule – you want to behave in a way that is conscious of the fact that others could act in the same way that you do. Human dignity involves the consciousness that you deal with other thinking, feeling people. When you engage in an act, to be moral, you should treat people as an End, not a Means. (This is most contrary to the John Stuart Mills view of the benefit of the many outweighs the benefit of the few utilitarianism.) Finally, reciprocity might similarly be labeled fairness; the idea of holding yourself to the same standards. You should be subject to being legislated as well as being legislator. In other words, we must recognize that in the same way we judge others, we are judged.

These ideas are rather compelling and both ethically and reasonably appealing. This philosophical ideal can be broken into three major premises.

First, we are all equal. We can’t hold ourselves to a different standard,  because we are all human. We all have differences, but our ethics ought not deviate from individual to individual.

Second, the consequences of our actions are morally irrelevant. To make this clearer, the idea is that we are only morally responsible for what is in our control. The consequences of our actions are not something we control. Therefore we can only be responsible for our own actions. Ideally, this seems reasonable, but it is a basic syllogism which has inherent tendency to fallacy. Nabokov’s “I am not another” is brought to mind. From the legal perspective,  the cry comes up, should you have no responsibility for foreseeable consequences, at the least? “If you cut me, do I not bleed?” Still, from an idealistic state of mind, this isn’t a wholly absurd premise.

Finally, your will is within your control so it is the proper basis of moral evaluation for your actions. Because we can control our will, in thinking before acting, we have that moral compass of should and shouldn’t. A philosophical sort of conscience.

It is notable that for Kant there is a distinction between intellectual thought and practical morality. There is much that is idealist in this, but a little idealism may make for a brighter day. The ethics and morality are a sweet relief from Plato’s absence of sentiment and eagerness for logical purity. Today is a good day to appreciate Kant, even where my legal mind rebels.

Tea

The perfect cup is such an elusive treasure. Is there any wonder that the Japanese developed an entire routine around the ceremony of making tea? There are so many variables to take into consideration!

First, there is the choice of blend to contemplate. This is a mixture of identifying those perfect balances of flavors, whether using fresh leaves, dried leaves or even store blends; and then linking that to suit your mood and physical needs. Sore throat? Perhaps orange or lemon… stressed out? Maybe chamomile. Lack of focus or difficulty in process? Mint might aid. Or is it a day demanding caffeine? Sharp or mild, sweet or bracing? The blend is a major choice in and of itself.

Then comes the act of tea creation. How to boil the water? Like the proverbial skinned cat, there are oh, so many ways and each with their own routine. Microwaving water for tea feels like cheating to me and I find that the water seems less agitated; it cools faster than convection or true boiled water. Boiling on a stove top within a kettle takes longer, but the quality seems so much greater! I have a convection kettle which aids when I want it quickly and lasts longer in heat than microwaved water, though it remains inferior to true boiling.

And finally, there is the steeping. Tea relaxes if only through the need for patience, the infusion of the water dissipating flavor from the leaves in the same way the aroma can permit the momentary dissolve of cares and concerns. There is a peace to be found in the enforced delay. And it permits the contemplation of final garnish.

Once steeped, are the leaves removed or permitted to linger? Do you add honey? Sugar? Lemon? Cream or milk? Or even a little cool water so you can consume immediately? Each cup is a minor work of art in its own right, whether minimalist, abstracted, decomposed, or even impressionist. It allows a moment in time to escape and an escape that may be shared.

There is something particularly lovely about a cup of tea that simply cannot be expressed to anyone who has never engaged in the practice of making a cup. It is an unspoken philosophy for the cherishing, for any who choose to undertake it.

Take me down a notch

The flu always takes me down a notch. Perhaps more so than most people find. I had a flu and ended up paralyzed from the waist down and took years to recover and regain feeling. My tensor had a flu and died. The flu is no light and easy thing.

Life wears on, drags on, the day to day needs and requirements never pausing, but my body has slowed, aches and begrudges even simple activity. When that is paired with the pure effort required to drive a grieving mind and will, I am left more exhausted than ever and without any sign of relief in view.

So, when I sink so far down, I need to look elsewhere to lift me up. Today, it was the Virtues.

If we lean towards Aristotelian ethics, our moral virtues are the disposition to behave in the right fashion and a learned practice to balance out our vices. For him, the virtues were those of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Prudence is intended to be, quite literally,  recta ratio agilbilium or the right reason for things to be done – knowledge and foresight are the hallmarks of prudence. Justice is that which ought to be done and the satisfaction of providing what is due at the time it is. Fortitude is the concept of bravery and courage – a very Grecian virtue, but not without use in today’s era. Fortitude is the ability to stand firm in the face of threat or strife. Finally, temperance is our ability to enjoy pleasure without sinking into the morass of gluttony.

But is the supreme good the activity of a rational soul within these standards of virtue? Or is there something deeper that applies?

Of notable absence upon Aristotle’s list are traits such as Integrity or Dilligence. If we pay attention to Confucius, other main virtues are worked into the philosophy by which man ought to live, though such virtues may have even less applicability to the modern world: Jen – human-heartedness or that benevolence that gives man his humanity; Li – benefit and the social order; Yi – righteousness and the desire to do good; Hsaio – filial piety, reverence – perhaps synonymous with obedience for your elders – a concept we see less and less of in the modern era; Chih – moral wisdom – a comprehension of right and wrong; Chen-tzu – the ideal man – the upright person we all must strive to be; and Te – governing moral – lawful rightness.

An interesting comparison between the two. Confucius’ system was very clearly designed towards a governing structure while Aristotle’s was less so, but the question becomes, can either of these truly apply to life as we see it? It also bears noting that Confucius’ standard was of the view that humans are born good and evil is something to be learned, while Aristotle’s view of humanity’s moral state was that humans are neither inherently good nor evil, but seek to learn goodness.

My natural inclination is to move straight towards Kant which is the direction of my own philosophical musings, but one bouche amuse at a time! To move from this into the question of moral question is to take virtues into the entirely next level, since that’s where we begin to question moral absolutism versus moral relativism and moral universalism which may provide very different ideas of how these virtues play out in any moral or ethical question that arises. But that’s a consideration for another time.

The Happy Life

  

To live happily, my brother Gallio,
is the desire of all men, but their minds are blinded to a clear vision of just what it is that makes life happy; and so far from its being easy to attain the happy life, the more eagerly a man strives to reach it, the farther he recedes from it if he has made a mistake in the road; for when it leads in the opposite direction, his very speed will increase the distance that separates him.

-Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger) De Vita Beata ad Gallionum.

How the classic philosophers loved to wax on over happiness and life. It is important however. And yes, yet again inspired indirectly by the brother for we discussed the very oddity of the circumstances surrounding our communication.

Fundamentally, there is something accurate here – if happiness is only to be achieved by one goal then detouring, particularly in the opposite direction, will damage your chances. But how often is happiness to be found in only a single goal? Is this because we don’t know what truly makes us happy?

Then I look at these conversations. They make me happy, yet they are the result of pure sorrow! Reading these books we discuss, uncovering new sheet music, and having silly arguments about semantics makes me happy. Yet, surely, if I look at my path, I have made mistakes along the road. I still have striven and still strive to happiness. But perhaps I am not blind? Or perhaps it is recognizing that happiness is not demanding, fixed or fickle.

Happiness does not come from money, though it may be funded. Happiness can be as simple as a breath of wind rippling golden, August – sunned grass, or the toothless grin of an infant strolled for an afternoon jog. It can be the perfect phrase strumming your soul, played by your fingers without checking the music. Happiness can be a moment of silence with three quarters of an involving book waiting to be read and nowhere to have to be.

If I find happiness so readily, perhaps this doesn’t fully apply,  but there is a lesson I took from it, as well. Though it may not have been this Ancient Younger’s intention, it has reminded me that it is not a wrong path to find happiness when it presents itself. While the moral or social question may be something else, happiness from unusual circumstances is no less happiness.

Killing Time

“But what has it ever done to you?”

I try to reason, try to rationalize, but still it descended upon me last night that I’m going through the paces. I throw myself into work; I pour my emotions into practicing the piano; I program upon a game; I try to focus upon reading, but I still feel this massive hole. I am doing little more than trying unsuccessfully to distract myself. Certainly, I make new friends; I am productive, but it all feels empty and disassociated from me.

The one thing I find myself eagerly — passionately — awaiting are the email responses from his brother. Somehow, that bothers me on multiple levels. It is his brother. A man with his own life, his own interests,  his own very distinct personality. I don’t imagine for a moment that he views me as my tensor did. The soul-touching closeness is not there, though understood. So why do I wait? Why do I refresh my email again and again throughout the day? Where does this giddiness at a new message in the appropriate address stem from? Or similarly the dejection when it isn’t his response?

There was no actual attraction when we met, nor can I even say it is an attraction now, not in the conventional sense. It is an attraction of mind and concept; a hunger for connection,  even if different from the one that was lost. But is this an attempt to recreate and replace? To fuel something desired but not there? It is amazing he has been willing to engage in our conversations,  but really, as much as I seem to need and want this, I have begun to question what benefit he might find in conversing with me. My need does not mean one of his own, particularly when what we lost was so profoundly different.

Is this a case of pity? But if that is not what my reason is, it seems unlikely that might be his. Is it a case of curiosity? There is little doubt that in adult life we separate from our siblings and develop our own world of which only glimpses are caught. To him, I might be a window into that? But still, a part of me cries out that I am a person. The only reason should be enjoyment of me, not my relationship with his dead brother! Yet it was I who urged him to engage conversation with me in the first place. And for what purpose? Because I feel disconnected and alone since his brother’s death.

Does that mean I wish to view him as a surrogate? That slot to fill? I don’t think so. He will never view me as his brother did. Nobody will. But I do enjoy him. And I want him to enjoy me for me, not just for his brother. And whether it is echoes of my tensor gone, the shadows of emotions that once flooded my soul, I kill time; waiting, waiting for that response which may ultimately mean absolutely nothing.

“A syllogism: other men die; but I / Am not another; therefore I’ll not die.”

Last night’s reading was Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Perhaps a form of self-torture, though recommended by the brother – possibly understandably.

Time means succession, and succession, change:

Hence timelessness is bound to disarrange

Schedules of sentiment.

He views the afterlife in a fashion quite fascinating – the question of if there is a heaven, how would a man twice-widowed meet up with his wives, both present in his paradise?

In this poem of cantos, the second canto he explores his reactions towards a child’s death. Within the third canto, he struggles with questions of afterlife. Freudian views, Buddhist concepts, he seems not to adhere to any, but to examine all. An exploration of the soul in modern form and yet categorically without explicitly relying on any given religion. Perhaps that is the wont of a Russian heritage – it is my own: to listen, to view, to interpret but not hold as law, since it might change and who is to know what may be when death finally comes?

Life Everlasting – based on a misprint!

I mused as I drove homeward: take the hint,

And stop investigating my abyss?

But all at once it dawned on me that this

Was the real point, the contrapuntal theme;

Just this: not text, but texture; not the dream

But topsy-turvical coincidence,

Not flimsy nonsense but a web of sense.

Yes! It sufficed that I in life could find

Some kind of link-and-bobolink, some kind

Of correlated pattern in the game,

Plexed artistry, and something of the same

Pleasure in it as they who played it found.

It strikes home – so many coincidences are attributed to Fate. That my Canadian tensor and I of the States, a world apart, should have found one another and across the space and time of years. That we developed what we did, and as we did, found links and connections, our lives merging together in incontrovertible ways – the similarities with his mother, his brother and my own life, joining together within his own – it formed a pattern. His mother’s name, her professions and mine are the bookends of life, the alpha and omega in similarity. His death, it ended our dream, but brought home these connections, the reasons behind what seemed naught but happenstance. Beautiful and wonderful and now tarnished in his loss.

And to read this upon the suggestion of his brother, it seems to add even more to the complexity. Of wend and weave, this pattern is complex and there are moments when it all seems so clear, so guided by things above and beyond; and then the moment fades.

I drove to the drugstore to pick up something for a bugbite that has swollen and expanded upon my spine, a simple prick that in allergy has grown to the hard size of one of my vertebrae and filled with pain to the touch. In driving, against the impending rain-grey sky, I caught sight of a trio of children wandering along the side of the road. Their dark skin gleamed against the cloud-cover and they were dressed in bright colors: one in red, one in vivid emerald and one in a summer’s sky blue – the shade notably absent today. For a moment’s whimsy I was thrilled – look at the rainbow preceding the rain as they tramp through the August-browned tall grasses, killed by the heat that comes in advance of the autumnal death. But then the moment passed.

Who is to say whether these patterns and wonders are reality or if they are the need of our minds to impose order on a world that is fundamentally chaotic? Are our memories and desires and needs, our search for reason and security, nothing more than our will for rational relationships to exist set upon the unreasonable world surrounding us? Or are these correlations, these patterns something fundamental that we need but search to find? Perhaps it isn’t the reality of these twists and turns in life that matter inherently, but the search and discovery of these – for this is where there is true wonder to be found.