Friday, March 27, 2009


The older I get, the more solitary I become. I spend more time with my family, but even during this “quality time” I spend many a moment transfixed in my own thoughts. I am often startled back to attention by my wife’s words to my son, “Daddy isn’t listening honey, he’s thinking of something else again.” I’ll quickly try to cover for myself and reach back to the last words I can recall in the discussion, but usually she’s right. So, what am I thinking about and why? Usually, a lot about nothing.

We have been called social animals and it is true, we are. We are defined by our relationships and without them we would not exist. Our thoughts are meaningless without language to guide them and language is the tool that connects us with other humans. But, still, why do I feel so often that I am alone?

I am sitting in a coffee shop and I can feel my heart beating and I am reading of Adam Smith whose heart stopped beating almost a quarter of a millennium ago. As I look around observing everyone walking to and fro, some young, some old, I realize that in another quarter of a millennium all of our hearts will have also stopped beating a long long time ago.

What will that moment be like – when my heart stops beating? Will I know it at the time – that my heart will never make another beat. Will I know my last thought? Will I know when my body will no longer be seeking nourishment or eliminating its last bit of waste.

Of course, my genes will live on in another being whom I am aware of – love deeply – but it cannot be said I know his thoughts, nor will I live on in them. And, yet, I will – in his thoughts, but not my own which will have ceased at some point in the future.

Just as Adam Smith’s thoughts are still alive, my son will keep me alive in his thoughts as he goes through the rest of his life – stuck and immersed inside his own head monitoring his own heart beating. At least that is what I wish, should a catastrophe not fall and my son be taken from me before his time. His thoughts must live beyond my own, for my own sense of worth and being.

I see my father as he is in the last phase of his life. His brain still working, working well, but his thoughts not as cogent as they once were. He is part of me. He raised me. But, he does not have access to my thoughts. Nobody does. We are each alone even as we sit together and speak of baseball games and fishing trips.

My wife is social. She talks. She comes from a family of talkers. I mystify her. She mistakes my quietness for self-assuredness and wisdom. Many people do, but she is my wife. You would think she would know by now. Of course, in many ways she does, but she still thinks I am a thinker. I suppose I am smart. I mean I do think. I think a lot. But, I am not solving quadratic equations in my mind.

I read many other people’s thoughts, too. The ones they put down on paper. Some tell stories and we call them novels. They entertain me, but they also reveal to me the thoughts of the author. Brilliant men and woman, much smarter than I, thinking about what to put down on a paper for me to pick up to read, many of who’s hearts stopped beating a long time ago.

Other authors provide me with a different perspective on many problems in the world worth contemplating. Often when I decide to speak, I have this information readily at hand. People take this for me being smart – knowledgeable. Sometimes, when I contradict someone, they take me for a pompous fool. Indignant, they would say to themselves, if I could read their thoughts.

But, most of the time I cannot, because usually they don’t write them down. They walk away without saying anything and we both leave with only our own thoughts as we wonder what the other might be thinking. Judging each other as we rerun the conversation in our minds and continue it forward all inside our own minds, because our hearts are still beating and we can for as long as we can continue to nourish our bodies, breathing the air and taking in all of the creation.

We each may wonder about our souls, but our bodies and our brains are confined to this earth and one day our bodies will stop working and our thoughts will cease. Then we might find out about our souls, perhaps.

In some ways I am sure I am much larger than what is confined inside my body. What is it my dreams stand for otherwise? I am a part of the ecosystem that has its own metabolism and thoughts. Or is this just a delusion I use to deal with the loneliness of my existence and the knowledge that some day my thoughts will cease.

For that matter, is this why I write down my thoughts? Can I not bear the thought of the conversation ending? Do I delude myself into thinking that by having my thoughts written down others will keep them alive? Of course, this is a worthy goal. Who would not want to be part of the great conversations that live on with Aristotle, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and others? But, even if we can get our thoughts down for the next generations to read this will not keep our own brains alive. For what I wrote twenty years ago does not keep the twenty year old young man alive. Some day my thoughts will cease and my heart will stop beating. I am confined inside this body. We can share thoughts in conversation as long as I am still alive. But, some day this possibility will end.

And when it ends, it will end as lonely as it was when it all began, but much more abruptly. I was not aware of my first thought, but I will be aware of my last even as I am incapable of remembering it. My last thought will not be in conversation with another. It will be alone and I will not be able to share it just as I have not really been able to share with you what it is like to sit here alone and listen to my own heart beat. But, you know that anyway. Perhaps we don’t need to share that. We are each alone even if we are social. We will always be alone in our thoughts.

1 comment:

Richard said...

I actually like to solve quadratic equations in my mind. I give my honors math students quadratic equation quizzes. I solve the problems myself while they are working on the quiz and then give them 7 times longer to do it.