Sunday, May 01, 2005

Are you alive?

I met someone today who didn't even appear to know she was alive.

When I was about 14 years old, my father allowed me to read his Thorne Smith novels, on the condition that I keep a dictionary in my lap while I did so, and look up any words I didn't know the definition of. (Believe me, there were quite a few.) I drank down The Stray Lamb as though I was a dehydrated wanderer in the desert and Thorne Smith the only well. It was witty and clever and just sexy enough to engage my adolescent hormonally foggy interest. However, one line has stuck with me every day of my life since I read that book, informing my days, coloring the glasses through which I see the world. In The Stray Lamb, the main character chides another, "You don't even know you're alive."

Since that time, so long ago, I tried to ask myself daily if I knew I was alive. Since that time, when I was only in junior high, I began to assess people I met; did they know themselves to be alive? Most people I've met don't. They measure themselves by their successes and failures and their comparisons to Televisionland and whatever current trend is extant in their community. That kind of awareness was not what Thorne Smith was referring to. He wanted to say that there was a sense of living that you could feel through the soles of your feet, through your skin, through your own eyes and senses without the input of mass media. Do you know that you can do that?

Listening to the new someone today, I could see that she had little idea that she was alive. She was all about sidewalks, and video assists to respond to church, and cute ideas that reduced seekers of truth to First Communion Kiddies. A frog started to call while she was telling how a church she went to was so wonderful, extolling projecting the lyrics to a song on the wall (holy bouncing ball!) and she never paused to wonder -- wonder! -- about a frog singing. The frog, for her, did not exist. Other opinions did not exist. The joy of other people's experiences did not exist. Only hers. "I am existence," that poor soul might say, if it were honest.

But "I am alive in this strange and mysterious world" -- forget it. The world is only as strange and mysterious as her living room permits.

Does she know that she is alive? Hmm, maybe, but not in a world in which others are also alive. "We have, we saw, we believe."

This is a little strange, I realize, but what about those important stances that say, "We don't know. We hope. We believe"?

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