This morning I read that smokers wish to die at least as much as they wish to live.
I wonder about that as I sit alone in my dingy hotel room inhaling the warm rancid smoke of my cigarette. Several times this week I have woken up and gone into work and looked around at the dangers that surrounded me and thought, “today I think I will be killed, the best and the worst I can hope for is that my body will merely be broken and agonizing pain will be my life.” I see it all happen in my mind. I see myself rejecting peoples sympathies and thinking myself some kind of hero. As I work around high pressure gas lines, I see the news paper headlines announcing that a son was killed by an exploding gas line the same as the father. I see people thinking about this strange coincidence and friends, especially those few who know my father, talking about it with others and holding onto the story and treasuring it as if it were their own.
On Thursday, we were fixing a water leak. It was a wet muddy hell of a hole. The banks were crumbling everywhere. Our feet were most often stuck where we placed them until we could dig them out. I was shoveling that shit with Charlie when out of the blue he very slowly calmly said me name, “Mike.” I didn’t look. I didn’t say anything. I just slowly and calmly stepped to the side just in time for several thousands of pounds of clay to fall into the place where I was standing. I didn’t even look to watch it fall, I merely went back to shoveling as if it was routine. And guess it is.
I wonder sometimes if my embrace of life’s dangers has any connection to Freud’s “death wish”?
Broken hearts and broken dreams
loves lost and loves caused
Suffering and suffering and suffering in the hearts and minds and bodies of all
The pain we feel and the remedies we find
The guilt of happiness and the heroism we feel for all that we know
for all that ties us, one to the other
Our separate lives…. entwined…..burdened by our bonds
How is it that we cannot see that the joys and sufferings of others are really our own?
The expanse of loneliness vs the compression of love
When you love everyone, there is no place for the love of just one
When you feel the joy and suffering all, there is no distinguishing the suffering of one
When all is lost, everything is there to be found
This is the expanse of loneliness and the compression of love
Nepal is a beautiful country. Terraced hills and grass huts. Peasant farmers and shop keepers, almost everyone in colourful local dress. Goats and chickens everywhere, the odd cow snacking on garbage. The bus drivers think nothing of the cliffs dropping down beside us. The people riding on the roof, hardly seem to notice the goats that are bouncing off them every time the bus hits a bump. With the sound of the horn, everyone politely shuffles over and buses and cars and motorbikes and people and sleeping dogs all seem to squeeze by on these impossibly narrow roads. A man gets pick-pocketed and everyone gathers around to hear his story and tell there own similar ones. Then they depart, without a word, as though they hadn’t just that very moment been having a conversation. Another woman, waiting for the bus to take her two children to a village that is two or three days walking after the bus drops them off eight hours after receiving her kiss goodbye. This mother is looking for someone taking the same bus who can show the children the way to the village. Sacks of rice are being taken up the back of a bus by head. One man puts the sack on his head and he balances it up the ladder to the next guy who takes it off and stacks it on the roof. It makes for good seats for all those passengers who will be riding up there.
It’s the cripples who go around walking on their stumps and elbows (or stumps and stumps) who strike me as living in impossible circumstances. And the snotty dirty children who watch me go by with no hope in their eyes, wondering what my life must be like and being unable to imagine such riches as even I have. There are also the desperate mothers with their babies in their arm waving the bottle around saying, “Milk for baby! Milk for baby?” But mostly there are just men women and children who want desperately to survive who wander every street putting their hand to their mouth saying, “Khana, khana” (food, food). There is more of this than you can imagine. People are everywhere hungry in a land where people really do try to help the hungry. I see the help everywhere, from local people, foreign tourists, aid charities. Everyone seems to be trying to easy the suffering of the poor, but the poor are still poor. Children have no parents, wives have no husbands, low caste people simply no chance.
I just spent five days inhaling the smoke from the fires of dead people. Less than 100 paces from where I was staying is the burning ghat along the Ganges river. Over three hundred people a day are turned to ash there. I saw as many as 12 fires going at once. I rented a boat for an hour and the boatman explained that babies, pregnant women, and holy men are never burnt, their bodies are tied to a rock and they’re dumped in the river. It’s not uncommon for then to break free of their rock and find their way back to shore where, as I soon found out, the dogs and the birds have a feast until the next morning when a dalit (an untouchable) comes along and dumps them back in the middle of the river. The alleyways of the old city that hug the ghats which hug the river are narrow and filled with market stalls, cows, goats, many people, and processions of chanting funeral goers with bodies on their shoulders.
Varanasi is the holiest city in India. It’s also most likely the drug capital of India. Everything is available here: opium, hashish, and bhang (pot) are the most popular, though I was told that the man I nearly punched-out was most likely high on heroin.
Varanasi is like a resort town. Tourists everywhere, merchants happily trying to sell their wares, and helpful english speaking locals everywhere to ensure us tourists don’t get too lost in the alleyways of the old city. You can lie under an unbrella and get an aruvedic massage for Rs400, sit on the steps and enjoy a “special lassi” (keeping in mind that I said it was the drug capital), or just stroll around enjoying the many mini-festivals and the beautiful, unpretentious women.
Varanasi was indeed a lovely resort town of death.
Philosophy makes a wise person foolish. Beware to those who pursue it for wisdom, beware to those who love knowledge, beware. Truth, for those who desire it, should be pursued in life, and not in study. Only through ignorance is truth possible, for all knowledge reveals is untruth. By parting the drapes of the mind and stepping into the light of the universe, truth’s imperfections become obvious, the paradoxes become impossible, and the impossible becomes the only possibility. A philosopher might think she has gained a new insight and reached new ground and figured out the point or meaning or essence of life when all she has done is amuse her self with mind games and lay the foundation for more questions. Upon commencing the undertaking of philosophy, knowledge appears to be not only possible, but as a nugget of truth and beauty enveloped in mystery. With continued study, there comes more mystery. Before long, a philosopher will look back on her life and studies and realize that all that is left is the mystery. Truth, beauty, knowledge: all of it will be gone and she will realize that foolish people also make philosophy.