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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going for the Battery Pack

It was a story I used to remember my mother telling friends and members of the family who had never had occasion to witness it. That was many years ago, but I do remember that she told it often. Perhaps, a little too often. Every single time she told it, though, I was the only one in the room who hated it. That’s because the story was about me, when I was much younger, about 2 years old, I think. Apparently, and I say “apparently” because I was too young to remember -- so these events may not have occurred, “technically speaking“ -- whenever somebody gave me a battery-operated toy I would always pick it up, flip it over to find a switch to switch the toy off, switch it off, and then remove the batteries. Once I was done, again “apparently,” I would look up at everyone, hoping for some applause, I guess. The downside was, once I was summarily satisfied at my achievement in removing the battery pack, I lost interest in the toy and moved on to something else. As soon as I finished people would turn to look at me and go “Awwww…” in that annoying way, like they just saw a puppy flip over onto its back and bark a cute little bark. I was a teenager, so unlike the puppy, I really didn’t appreciate the attention that some deed I had supposedly perpetrated was still garnering me this maternal attention. To make matters worse, some wise-ass always had an almost compliment that they felt the need to verbalize, and then vocalize. They would say something like, “See? That’s why he is doing well in school now,” like the two things even had anything to do with each other. With these kinds of skills as a toddler, I was more likely to be heading up a terrorist camp somewhere, engaging in “Power Terrorism”, a form of terrorism that went right for the source of the power. Or perhaps I could work in the bomb squad, trying to disarm bombs in tense situations while having to deal with my life, a la Hurt Locker. But back then, there were no “terrorists”. There were only “insurgents,” “rebels,” and “right-wing radicals,” but this belongs in another post. No, the story about me going for the battery pack was all about an interesting bit of instinctual behavior that made for a curious spectacle. And then, just when I was about to put this irritating memory out of my mind the other day, a smaller sub-idea popped into my head. How was this random act of baby ingenuity -- look who discovered the art of braggadocio in his very first paragraph -- affecting me in my life? And I began to wonder about how and why some of the events in my life had played out in the manner in which they had because of this. It was more than possible. In fact, it was very much the case.

I remembered a professor of mine asking me why I wanted to be a part of a new student counseling program in high school. It was a residential school, and as such, school administrators finally seemed to feel the need to help students cope with not just the separation from home, but also a growing dependence among some of the students on things like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. I would have said “drugs” as an end-all kind of term, but in all honesty, these were the only things that were available in that area. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about a lack of variety in high school contraband. I was just trying to make my point, which is that the school finally decided to do something about it. So, there I was, participating in an interview process that was very casual. It was my first ever interview, but having had the opportunity to participate in a few since then, it was definitely one of my best. One of the professors who was on the interview panel asked me, “Why do you want to be a part of this new student counseling initiative?” And trust me, back then, when I thought I was onto something, in this case explaining how the purpose of my existence matched the purpose of this new extra-curricular activity that was being set up, I remember how I’d dive into something headlong and attack it with gusto beyond compare. “I like to try and understand people to see what makes them do the things they do, and be the way they are. I like to listen to their stories of the experiences in their lives that have made them who and what they are today,” I said, rather genuinely too, I must say. And no, I wasn’t faking it. I honestly like to get a feel for people and the things in their lives that seem to drive them. Well, long story short, they liked the answer, and I was one of the new student counselors on campus, after a brief training session that took place the following week. The Guidance Counselor would conduct our training and our weekly debriefing sessions, while we just tried remain accessible to our fellow, troubled boarders in our little boarding school in the mountains. And, I didn’t think much of it then, but thinking back to this major event in my life, I should have paid more attention to what I had said. No, not in terms of it being in any way offensive or otherwise in need of censorship. I didn’t realize it, but I was talking about looking for people’s battery packs.

Wham! This sudden clarity was a bit much, so I sat myself down to think about it. I couldn’t see any particular benefits of going for the source, or capturing the essence of the person, other than being able to build stronger relationships with people, but there was one obvious negative. It was what followed my discovering of a battery pack. I removed it, and left the once moving and flashing toy lifeless, before moving on to the next one, if there was one. A brief side note, it’s not like my father was/is a millionaire, so I lived a very middleclass existence for which I am now grateful. Back to what I was say, for whatever reason, I ran the risk of growing close to people, only to suddenly and immediately move away. Thud! I heard something hit the floor. A wooden floor, so it must have been in my mind. In the “real world,” I was standing on a linoleum floor with a rather horrendous yet somehow geometrically aesthetic design on it, in case you were wondering where I was going with that. It was quite shocking, and certainly shocking enough for me to have to reach out for the nearby wall, just to try and steady myself. In a single moment, it explained so many things, while simultaneously bringing up a font of questions. It was a singular occurrence of intense opposites, and I felt humbled by its radiance. And then I started a long and arduous hike down memory lane, this time with an expression on my face that sought to redefine agape.

I revisited some of the more curious friendships that I had had. There were people in my life by whom I was educated in an entirely new way of living and thinking, and apart from the amazing coincidence for any or all of us to have ever met, let alone interacted so intimately, the fact that it somehow ended rather abruptly and strangely now seemed a little less strange. It began to make sense. Kind of. Thinking back a little further, no, around the same time actually, I thought about the “episodes” that I had had when I was a student in college. There were moments of intense lucidity where I found myself overwhelmed by what lay in my immediate future. So overwhelmed was I, that I froze. It was almost as if I believed that if I moved, my future would spot and seize me in its death-grip, slowly but surely choking the life out of me. My days as a student were spent studying things on momentary whims, switching from one to the next as if on a trapeze act at the circus of human knowledge. I was eager to learn, yes, but only until I had figured out what lay at the heart of the subject. Truth be told, it’s more likely that I thought I had figured out what lay at the heart of many of the subjects that I first embraced but then shooed away, instead of having actually figured it out. Next, I thought back to the intimate relationships that I had had, or been a part of, whichever is more appropriate. I remembered a high school friend chiding me about how all the girls I had “gotten involved with” were kind of “psycho,” to use the slang that was prevalent at the time, and the fact that there was any “involvement” at all was because I used to just shut up and listen to whatever it was that they had to say, which, surprisingly enough, was a heck of a lot for people studying in high school in a boarding school. I laughed it off then, although I couldn’t shake off the fact that there was more than a grain of truth in what he said, given my dubious record concerning high school girls and what seemed to make them tick. Now that some of the missing pieces of my life had revealed themselves to me, I went back in time and revisited some key events and the particular moments in those events where I had first given of myself completely, and then suddenly withdrawn and shriveled closed from people who had really cared for me. Ok, that was a little too dramatic. There were definitely some of them who didn’t care half as much as I’d hoped they would, to allow myself a little bit of realism. Yet, the fact remained that I had exhibited a similar pattern of behavior here too. I can’t remember a single relationship of mine that has ended well enough for me to end up being friends with the other person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried and tried again till I’ve never succeeded. It hasn’t stopped me from being willing to try again, let me just say. But, it didn’t help to be making this kind of commitment to act on a personality twitch, when the problem was staying committed to the other person and the relationship, especially after I had peeled away all the layers and arrived at the very heart, in the first place. Putting all of it together, or at least how much of my life had been affected by a seemingly “cute” habit in my early childhood, I found myself sitting there. My mouth, still wide open. Here I was, sabotaging my own life, one battery pack at a time.

That was a few days ago. And, I’m the kind of guy who needs a fair bit of time to mull things over. Many have complained that it’s not fast enough, but I find that I live my life on a longer-term scale than them. As I sat around and thought this through, I turned my attention to the exceptions, the times when contrary to this recent discovery about myself, I had stuck it out and apparently tried to deal with my here-today-gone-the-next-instant modus operandi with everything in my life. I could think of at least one good friend who I had had the opportunity to learn a great deal from, most importantly the lessons of love and respect, and who I was still in touch with, albeit on a somewhat regular basis. That was better than I could say for the other people in my life. We had happened to share key moments of our lives in the same time at the same place, and this has surely brought us together on several levels. I could think of at least one subject in school, and then college that I happened to be so fascinated in that I relentlessly pursued it all through my days as a student, even after I had arrived at the center of its raison d’ĂȘtre. Now, you might think me strange for referring to an area of knowledge as having a reason for its existence because isn’t all knowledge a matter of discovering things that already exist whether or not we invent a reason for them sooner or later? But think about the things you know, and think about why you know them. Back to what I was saying, yeah, I was fascinated by a couple of professors in college, one of whom I can claim to really have shaken the foundations of how I saw my world. This is something that I pursue to this day, making sense of what is real and what is made to look real no matter how credible the source was previously. Last and certainly by no means least, I could think of one relationship that taught me more about living with another human being in the real world, than any magazine, TV Show, independent research study, or the advice of friends and family could ever hope to. All of a sudden, things weren’t as bleak with the way my life had turned out so far. Sure, I had fretted over the numerous examples of how things seemed to fit a certain, almost, pathological pattern in my life. And sure, so far I had focused on events of my life that turned out to be failures, and they seemed to far outnumber the positive experiences that I had had in my life. But I had ignored the fact that I was living my life like one big learning experience, and that of the utmost importance was the fact that no matter how many times I had fallen, I always managed to pick myself up, never having to look too far for a helping hand, should I ever need it. I was feeling a lot more positive, you see, so although it did take a few weeks for my mental processes to calm down and reveal this to me, I smiled, because I realized that I could rest assured that for all the times I had messed up, I would be able to, if I put my mind to it, find a bunch of things that showed that I was a normal human being, not in any way special, or “fallen” for that matter. Some days, it must be said, there’s a certain wonder to waking up to the humanness of the self.

Someone once referred to conquering the wandering mind as being the final frontier to achieving enlightenment. I can’t say that I understand them completely, but with these gentle musings gone wrong in my life, and trust me, there have been plenty of examples of this, and I can honestly say that I understand where they are coming from. I guess I could conclude by saying that after I gave it all this thought and time to percolate down to the depths of my common sense, I realized that like the “examples” I alluded to, it was all much ado about nothing. Or, maybe I could conclude that there was some truth to the ill effects that my going for the heart and soul of my fellow human being brought with it. But in writing this, as with the time and place I think I’ve arrived at in my life, I thought it best to conclude with my favorite phrase -- one that was unfortunately patented in that not-quite-hit song by Dwayne Johnson and Wyclef Jean -- “It doesn’t matter.” In one fell swoop, using this idea, I can explain away all the thousands of words that I’ve written before this. Since I like to think so much, to a fault I’ve been told, it’s funny how I didn’t think of this earlier. Well, I know I’ve heard it in Religious Education classes in school, and more than a handful of people have ended up quoting the Buddha to me in my life thus far, but it has to be said that learning an idea as a matter of fact and understanding an idea as it manifests itself in your life are two totally different things. The latter being more profound, and given my own proclivity for letting things take their time, I guess I didn’t see it because I had to be at a particular place and time in my life. More importantly, to achieve the kind of peace that I wanted to, or any semblance of peace thereof, I needed to understand that I was at the mercy of m mind and how it perceived the world around me, not to mention trying to make sense of the vast expanse of nothingness within. So, I wasn’t a battery pack consuming monster, devouring the world of its soul, one living thing at a time. Taking out the batteries was just something I did as an infant. And, all the failures that I dredged up were a result of life’s “triple threat” way of dishing out the not-so-good times: other people, the way things were at the time, and me. And that was all it was. Funny how that is the exact same recipe of the “good times” in my life too. I guess it’s sad that I’ll never tire of the fickleness of my mind, and the wild goose chases that it sends me on every now and then. That’s nothing compared to the wild goose chases I find myself on, even to this day, thanks to well-meaning people in my life. But that’s just the way life is, for me at least. I know there are people out there who have it a lot better than I do, and those who have it far, far worse than lucky ol’ me. Ultimately however, battery pack or no battery pack, the most important thing to remember is that no matter how much I think it matters to me and the very survival of the human race, it doesn’t.
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