Looking for Alaska

Book read in 2014, in the 11th grade, because it’s a fashion today between youngsters with these books written by John Green:

“ [….] I must talk and you must listen, for we are engaged here in the most important pursuit in history: the search for meaning. What is the nature of being a person? What is the best way to go about being a person? How did we come to be and what will become of us when we are no longer? In short: what are the rules of this game and how might we best play it?” (what the Religion teacher said) .

*

The nature of the labyrinth, I scribbled into my spiral notebook,and the way out of it. […] I’d never been religious, but he told us that religion is important whether or not we believed in one, in the same way the historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.

*

“You’ve got a lifetime to mull over the Buddhist understanding of interconnectedness. But while you were looking out the window, you missed the chance to explore the equally interesting Buddhist belief in being present for every facet of your daily life, of being truly present. Be present in this class. And then, when it’s over, be present out there” he said, nodding towards the lake and beyond (what the Religion teacher said) .

*

“suffering. Doing wrong and having wrong things happen to you. That’s the problem. Bolvar was telling about the pain, not about the living or dying. How do you get out of the labyrinth of suffering? “

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. But there’s always suffering, Pudge. Homework or malaria or having a boyfriend who lives far away when there’s a good-looking boy lying next to you. Suffering is universal. It’s the one thing Buddhists, Christians and Muslims are all worried about” (what Alaska said) .

*

But there’s no doubting that the questions we’ll be asking have more immediacy now than they’d just a few days ago. What happens to us after we die, for instance, is no longer a question of idle philosophical interest. It is a question we must ask about our classmate. And how to live in the shadow of grief is not something nameless Buddhists, Christians and Muslims have to explore. The questions of religious thought have become, I suspect, personal.

How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?

I’m going to leave that up for the rest of the semester. Because everybody who has ever lost their way in life has felt the nagging insistence of that question. At some point we all look up and realize we are lost in a maze, and I don’t want us to forget Alaska, and I don’t want to forget that even when the material we study seems boring, we’re trying to understand how people have answered that question and the questions each of you posed in your papers- how different traditions have come to terms what Chip, in his final called ”people’s rotten lots in life” (what the Religion teacher said) .

*

“Everything that comes together falls apart. Everything. The chair I’m sitting on. It was built, and so it will fall apart. I’m gonna fall part, probably before this chair. And you’re gonna fall apart. The cells and organs  and systems that make you you-they came together, grew together and so must fall apart. The Buddha knew one thing science didn’t prove for millennia after his death: entropy increases. Things fall apart. ”(what the Religion teacher said) .

We are all going  to die, I thought, and it applies to turtles and turtlenecks, Alaska the girls and Alaska the place, because nothing can last, not even the earth itself. The Buddha said that suffering was caused by desire, we’d learned, and that the cessation of desire meant the cessation of suffering. When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall part, you’d stop suffering when they did.

Some day no one will remember that she ever existed, I  wrote in my notebook, and then, or that I did. Because memories fall apart too. And then you’re left with nothing, left not even with the ghost, but with its shadow. In the beginning, she had haunted me, haunted my dreams, but even now, just few weeks later, she was slipping away, falling apart in my memory and everyone else’s, dying again.

2014-05-10 21.51.58

*

How will you-you personally-ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering? Now that you’ve wrestled with 3 major religious traditions, apply your newly enlightened mind to Alaska’s question.

“I am interested in how you are able to fir the uncontestable fact of suffering into your understanding of the world, and how you hope to navigate through life in spite of it.”

“Islam, Christianity and Buddhism each have founder figures-Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha respectively. And in thinking about these founder figures, I believe we must finally conclude that each bought a message of radical hope. To seventh-century Arabia, Muhammad brought the promise that anyone could find fulfillment and everlasting life though allegiance to the one true God. The Buddha held out hope that suffering could be transcendent. Jesus brought the message that the last shall be first, that even the tax collectors and lepers-the outcasts-had cause for hope. And so that is the question I leave you with in this final: what is your cause for hope? “

*

He was gone, and I did not have time to tell him what I had just realised: that I forgave him, and that she forgave us, and that we had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth. There were so many of us who would have to live with things done and things left undone that day. Things that did not go right, things that seems ok at the time because we could not see the future. If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.

*

What was her-green eyes, half a smirk, the soft curves of her legs-would so be nothing, just the bones I never saw. I thought about the slow process of becoming bone and then fossil and then coal that will, in millions of years, be mined by humans of the future, and how they would heat their homes with her, and then she would smoke billowing out of a smokestack, coating the atmosphere.

Those awful things are survivable as we believe ourselves to be. When adults say “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are.WE cannot be born and we cannot die. Like all energy (which is never created and never destroyed) we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old, they get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin  and cannot end, and so I cannot fail.

*

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