SS: “Letter from South America”

Dear Bob,
I recently had a short vacation by the ocean. We stayed in a gorgeous resort (see above); totally unaffordable for me;  except that my aunt lives there, and let us stay for tenth the price they actually charge guests. So nice!
But it was just a one-week long holiday. After the fourth day I started feeling some anxiety, even depression. Soon we were going to have to leave and go back to our routine; which I have to say is not bad at all, it is simply the routine.  I would think of some things we could do, like perhaps go walking the hills or visit a natural reserve. But there was noise in my head… it is almost over, you have just little time. The feeling of an imminent end seemed to paralyze me. I remember having a similar feeling on Sunday evenings when I was in college. At that time I would experience a feeling of void, forlornness. But why is it so? The time is there; the opportunity to do something is there. You would think that you must take advantage of every minute left. One could say that in the last hours one should be brave and formidable. And yet, sadness fills the heart. A former boss used to say one should live life like a soldier: just as if today was the last day of life. But if the soldier knew today was the day of his death, he might spend his day crying. He just does not know and expects many new days to come. He fights for his life!
I guess my ex-boss meant that knowing that your end is coming requires you to be the best you can. And yet, how can you be brave and outstanding when you are overcome by a feeling of emptiness? The end is a boundary. It is about leaving a familiar space. It is a flame dying away. I can’t think of action and progress but withering and falling. And what about using time wisely? A mother looks at her daughter sleeping eleven hours and spending a long time texting everyday and desperately begs her not to waste her time: this could be the last day of your life! The girl does not have forever. But even using time wisely requires the hope that we have forever. Without the motivation of a future to be lived how can one be active and productive? We always have this motivation because we have the belief (or the hope?) that we have forever. But we know we don’t have forever. The time to create a story is limited.
Everyday we lay a brick and everyday we expect to have one more chance at building. We might be able to finish or we might not, but we wish time be on our side. It is not that we should live like a soldier but that we live like a soldier: always hoping that today is not the last one. There is no way around it: the end is sad and the feeling can make us freeze. But is that really important? In the end, it is the end. It is short. It is a moment. There are many moments before that one; the moments of my life. They should matter more. I do not want to come to the end and regret, like in Jorge Luis Borges poem, not climbing more mountains, not being more relaxed, not traveling lightly, not changing routines. Fortunately I don’t have to regret not having been able to overcome the near-the-end anxiety feeling I told you about. I managed to go out and enjoy the last days of my vacation.
I got sick though. I got upset stomach from eating at a food place at some beach where there is no potable water or electricity. Food was delicious but boy was I sick!
Oh well, think of the poem…all is well.

9 thoughts on “SS: “Letter from South America”

  1. “The time to create a story is limited.”

    Thank you for the letter. I find it thoughtful and moving. A few years ago I delivered a “sermon” to the local Unitarians in which I talked a bit about “story” and made the claim that we are our story. Some say we are our DNA, others say we are our traits, others we are made in god’s image . . . but I want to say we are our story. What do you think about that?

    In that talk I related this story: “Let me end with an example of a story that resonates in me. Another story that changed my life. For years I have been prejudiced against a certain group of humans. Even long ago as a college student I used to shy away from members of this group. Confronted with them I withdrew with fear and repugnance. I knew I was wrong to do so but I could not seem to get what I knew incorporated into what I do.
    A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash.
    At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the track, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said: “This will make it better.”
    Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story.
    Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.
    Each of us creates a narrative in our life, creates a STORY of our life by the actions we take as we walk toward the finish line. Choose your stories with care, for “the truth about stories is – that’s all we are.”

    Thanks for the letter, Laura!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bob, I’m thinking now that your claim just makes sense: when asked who someone is, we aren’t told just name or job or traits but also experience, achievement, story. Donald Trump is the president of the USA sure, but that is not so important as to what he’s done, his story. But then the answer to who we are is not clear. We are always “reading” our stories: remembering them, and then interpreting. In Reading the Bible, you say: “to read is to interpret.” And indeed we could remember a story and claim we were brave but at a different time we remember the same story and conclude we are losers. And so, who we are could have an ever-changing answer. Is that a problem?
      I remember a recent post about self-loathing. If I am my story, hating myself is hating my story; and that might not be so good. If I hate my story I regret. Regret is not such a good think except in situations like crime (I killed, I regret, I won’t do it again) or in practical matters (I sped up knowing my limit, I got a ticket, I regret, I won’t do it again). And how do we recuperate from that if I did not see myself as more than my past? When I was around 10 years old I had this marvelous experience quite often: I would sit in silence and alone and start asking myself: who am I? who am I? who am I? I would repeat the question enough times until I had the feeling of freefalling. Swirling in the air: it is amazing that this body is something with thought and choice and desires. The image of freefalling proposes another idea: I am also intention. I can leave my story behind and start all over again.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This discussion has me looking through some notes that I took when reading John Dominique Crossan’s book:

    From The Dark Interval – Crossan

    X: “The ultimate limit is that human beings cannot get outside of story; we can get outside of particular stories, or particular forms of stories, but not outside of story as such. The world in which we live is a narrative world, created by and in our stories.”

    2: “Our intentions, our theories, our visions are always confined within both language and story.” [the above are from the preface by Robert Funk]

    6: Three claims of getting outside of story: “I must confess immediately that I can no longer believe in any of them, let alone in the combinations of all three.”

    • “The first great master claim is one which makes a distinction between art (or faith, or imagination) and science (or fact, or reason) and then postulates for each a different language and a different destiny. Having established this complete disjunction, the claim then situates one term in hierarchical supremacy over the other. In our time, it is clear that for most people the ascendancy is that of science over art.”

    • “The second master claim is that of evolutionary progress – the claim that, if not every day in every way, then at least some days and in some ways we are getting better and better. This is not taken merely as a story, a possible and most interesting way of seeing it, but as objective and realistic fact, open and obvious to the unprejudiced viewer.”

    • “The third master claim is the postulate that there is an external reality out there, extrinsic to our vision, our imagination, and our intellect and that we are gaining objective knowledge and disciplined control over this extramental reality.”

    7: “I would say that the most interesting story for me is that which best opens up the possibility of transcendental experience for here and now.”

    22: “Reality is neither in here in the mind nor out there in the world; it is the interplay of both mind and world in language. Reality is relational and relationship. Even more simply, reality is language.”

    25: “If there is only story, then God, or the referent of transcendental experience, is either inside my story and, in that case …. God is merely an idol I have created; or, God is outside my story, and I have just argued that what is “out there” is completely unknowable. So it would seem that any transcendental experience has been ruled out, if we can only live in story.”

    29: “…The classical mind says, that’s only a story, but the modern mind says, there’s only story.”

    38: “Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change.” Parables are fictions, not myths; they are meant to change, not reassure us.” … “Parable brings not peace but the sword, and parable casts fire upon the earth which receives it.”

    40: “Myth has a double function: the reconciliation of an individual contradiction and, more important, the creation of belief in the permanent possibility of reconciliation. Parable also has a double function which opposes that double function of myth. The surface of parable is to create contradiction within a given situation of complacent security but, even more unnervingly, to challenge the fundamental principle of reconciliation by making us aware of the fact that we made up the reconciliation.”

    41: [from Sheldon Sacks] “A satire is a work organized so that it ridicules objects external to the fictional world created in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And then . . .

    “Myth” does not mean merely “fictional,” or “not real,” but in its full sense. As the German theologian, Bartsch, has said, “Myth is the expression of unobservable realities in terms of observable phenomena.” Myth then is always used to interpret reality, to read the physical and psychological world. Myth is metaphor. It is story. It explains the complex in terms of the simple. It may be non-rational, but it is not false. Myth is true to not true of the world. The non-rationality of myth is its very essence, for religion requires a demonstration of faith by the suspension of critical doubt. “In this sense,” as Edmund Leach puts it, “all stories which occur in The Bible are myths for the devout Christian whether they correspond to historical fact or not.”
    Umberto Eco writes: “I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

    A myth is living or dead not true or false. We cannot refute a myth because as soon as we treat it as refutable it is no longer a myth but has become hypothesis or history.

    Myths are stories that never happened but are always true. – Bob

    And as Thomas King puts it: “The truth about stories is – that’s all we are.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think any of these answers to the question of who you are is correct: I am Socrates, I am my body, my DNA, I am the president of the USA. The thing is that what we are looking for is something else. In a bank all they want to know when they ask who you are is your name. But I think the question here is what is it that makes you be you: YOU, that sense of self that constitutes you or that same sense of self. In that sense story seems to be an appropriate answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The problem: What is a person? Many theories have been offered over time to answer that question:

    · The soul theory–your essence is your soul or mind, understood as a nonphysical entity distinct from your body. Descartes came to think of the mind as the vehicle of continuity because of his observation that if an individual loses several body parts he/she is still the same person. What is the same? The person’s mind (or soul).

    · The psychological continuity theory–you are essentially your memories and ability to reflect on yourself (Locke) and, more generally, your overall psychological configuration.

    · Materialism–you are essentially the material that you are made out of–a collection of molecules, largely water molecules, and carbon based.

    · Narrative — you are your story; personal persistence is a function of a narrative structure, your story of being-in-the world with all of its complexities and relationships with others.

    · The no self view–your self is an illusion. The “I” is a grammatical fiction (Nietzsche). There are bundles of impressions but no underlying self (Hume). There is no survival because there is no person (Buddha).

    From a review here.


  5. I like: ” Narrative — you are your story; personal persistence is a function of a narrative structure, your story of being-in-the world with all of its complexities and relationships with others.”


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