When I’m on the train I like to try to sit quietly, stare ahead, and meditate. I try to think about nothing, be mindful of the physical world. I try to think about the train, how it’s moving from point to point, how it has an origin and a destination, how people get on and off, how each of them has a point of origin and a destination, and how it’s ok not to be in a hurry and just be mindful of how everyone is on a separate journey on the same train. Just like how we’re each on a separate journey and our lives intersect temporarily, never permanently. Each of us is alone. Never fully with someone else.
Only a year out from college, I already recall the experience as something distant. The social environment is so wholly different than life after. Today, again in my favorite coffee shop (and noticing that the taste has improved since the ownership changed), I observed a social interaction perfectly commonplace in a college town like this. A young student came in and ordered coffee, and then proceeded to sheepishly ask the barista, “I have kind of a weird question…is it ok if I take your picture? It’s for a class. “Do I have to pose?” “No, not at all, I just need a shot of someone working.” “Of course.”
As much as I spent many of my college years despising the money-pit, bend-over nature of the education business, I do miss this strange alternate culture that higher education creates. Thankfully for now I’m still in the area and can observe it. This feeling almost harkens back to days of playing house in the backyard. Kids spend their childhoods imagining adult life, and imaginatively living out adult life the way a kid would if he were somehow an adult. And too, in college, we do the same. We’re truly on our own for the first time. The experience bears a strange, legitimate affinity with that childhood game. This is the first time the game is fully realized by the child. Truly alone and left to his own wits and untested adult sensibilities, the college student is free to roam in the adult world, still possessing some kind of illusioned, unconscious perception of this world. Classes dictate certain things, and a student finds himself asking that awkward question, and managing to navigate into a pleasant conversation with a stranger. Travel five miles away from this cultural petri dish, and you won’t find an interaction like this for months. I’m sure the 2-3 mile square radius of college kid mobility contains several of these interactions per day.
I wish I could remain in this state. I wish I could motivate myself strongly enough to continue my self-education in a way that gives me the courage to participate in this illusioned culture. Not because it is itself an illusion. The disillusionment of the illusion of the openness of the world hasn’t yet overcome these students. Education is still The Sword. Exploration and understanding and place and sex and beauty and friendship are still theirs to create. True, the devil is fighting here in this town, but so is The Counselor. The battle is everywhere, and here, at least, the openness of the world is almost illumined into reality. The sin may be greater, and the virtue not a match for it, but as Kierkegaard wants us to know, the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith. And in the midst of disbelief and doubt, faith truly does grow here. Like a weed it spreads through the sewers and forgotten catacombs underneath these crumbling walls, and breaths The Hallelujah into hopeless certainties and illusioned imaginations alike. Yes, the sin here is greater, and the faith too. Virtue grows where it may. It certainly does not grow in the lecture halls, though it thrives in the suburbs.
The clouds here are strung out like grey-blue squid tentacles. Or like behemoth branches miles above the city that mirror the permeating roots beneath it. The clouds change shape, and so does faith, so do the roots as they grow, as they are nourished or famished. An illumined reality will exist whether or not our faith in it remains constant. But somehow, faith is what brings it into being. For now I only get glimpses of it in the illusion of an educational microcosm. I didn’t know, and I don’t know…no, but we will.