Wednesday, March 23, 2011

GRIEFLING (2): PLATONIC & ARISTOTELIAN BEREAVEMENT



6:49 A.M. and I'm still in bed trying to work things out in my brain like why I should get up when I own my own school and no one can make me go to school if I don't want to go or why I shouldn't just lie here a little longer thinking about the Lord and the Bible and my sins and how gay it is not to be Christian or how regretful I am that my two pairs of skinny jeans are in the hamper when my legs really need a denim hug today. Looking around my room, it is obvious that I've been preoccupied like this the past few mornings. I don't want to describe the bathroom, but for the sake of honesty I will: it is a mosaic of towels in opposing states of wet and dry, large and small, flat and crumpled, cornered and exposed, clean and unclean, rich and poor, saved and unsaved. A container of cleaning supplies precariously sits upon the "him" sink in our luxury bathroom, though the "her" sink is equally covered with everything from lotion to hairbands to brushes to photographs to washcloths. A container of baby formula lies with its expensive, vanilla powder spilled on the floor like someone was in a rush to give the baby her last fix.

A Sonic strawberry shake sits next to an unfinished can of Mountain Dew on my bookshelf next to a cedar box full of juvenile treasures upon which sits a Goliath-fist chunk of the foundation of the World Trade Center next to my college dictionary on which rests a pile of books, that, quite honestly, look good there without my needing to read them. To my right my long-sleeved, blue, thermal shirt is sprawled on the floor next to the bed along with a Dell laptop and my mini-Hackintosh and their attendant umbilical cords which are intertwined and plugged into two different sets of outlets though the Hackintosh is blinking orange. Plush, infant children's toys are scattered all over the sides and foot of my bed along with unused diapers from the ransacked diaper bag which is lying on its side in the position it fell asleep in last night. Dotted here and there is laundry lying in little, meaningless piles upon the floor, and the piles don't make sense: one group is a towel, one sock and my underwear while another pile consists of bed sheets, a pillow case and a baby bottle. Little children's dirty socks pock-mark the low-grade white carpet, and none of them match which irritates me and makes me think that if all of my children were one-legged then all of the socks would disappear. The carpet sports its own problems with remnants of chocolate, caramel and various assortments of cookies ground together and aged with that same unattractive, gummy goo, matting it in little twists and swirls. 

On the floor lie two other people in idiotic repose, company I did not realize. A Ken doll wearing no pants but one shoe and a Kanye West kerchief lies with arms stiffly outstretched, gesturing towards me, intimating a warm embrace. Near him lies African-American Barbie with her bikini bottoms on quite modestly but her bikini top on backwards shamelessly exposing her boobs. One leg sticks straight up towards the ceiling like a steeple and the other one juts out by her right ear, the foot of which looks like it was chewed. I do a double-take, and they are still smiling. It's not a smirk either or a grimace: it is pure salvation joy. It is a bona fide "Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season" smile or an "aren't-we-having-so-much-fun smile or an "I'm-so-happy-and-here's-the-reason-why" smile. Despite their contortions, which by all means seem rather agreeable to them, they are joyful like I want to be.

Bereaved though I am for the loss of life of a student I loved and invested in, I have laughed raucously this past week. I've watched too many movies. I've stuffed my face with sweets. I've kissed my wife way too many times (and not because I was sad). Stone Table students and others graced my house on Sunday afternoon and relayed the most holy and profane stories about our Chris that I laughed so hard I almost farted. Stone Table School graduates came by school yesterday, interrupting our school schedule, piling on the maroon furniture in the foyer, and telling stories that bordered on questionable and ridiculous but that I soaked up with juvenile excitement because they were putting skin and bones back onto the memory of Chris. I could not help but notice the fluctuations in my grief. 

On the one hand was my Platonic grief. Plato's World of Forms elevates the Ideal over the Actual: the ideal job over the part-time one, the ideal husband over the absent-minded one, the ideal worship experience over the put-me-to-sleep-and-out-of-my-misery sermon, the ideal family reunion over the one where the family schizo or man-whore actually shows up despite the fact you did not send him an invitation. The Ideal Chris over the Actual Chris. Platonic bereavement demands we freeze-frame the video clip and extract the one slide that exhibits that one transcendent trait for which we think Chris should be remembered. It demands that we edit his poetry of all scatological and vulgar elements, swapping the use of one-to-one ratios: "crying" for "praying", "falling" for "calling" and "doubt" for "faith." Platonic bereavement converts into Super Chris.

Aristotle did not agree with his teacher Plato like Chris did not always agree with Mr. Raymond or Mr. Clifton, or (definitely not) Mr. Li or me. Aristotle thought it pretentious to elevate the World of Forms when that world is not the one with which we immediately deal. I mean, would you rather eat a steak that is overcooked or the IDEA of a steak? Would you rather live life with asthma or a VIRTUAL life? Would you rather make $8.00 an hour or spend time THINKING about making $8,000 an hour? Ok, sure, one might think it nice if all of our wives looked like Jessica Simpson (in some respects), but if you had Jessica Simpson (in some respects) you would eventually bore of her and wish you had, I don't know, Meryl Streep (in some respects). And if you chose Jessica Simpson, you can't have Nicole Kidman: not at the same time in the same way. Nature does not give you Simpson and Streep at the same time SO CHOOSE ONE OVER THE OTHER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

But Aristotelian bereavement has its exclusive problems, too. Chris' life meant so much more than the merely empirical interaction he had with other humans. Chris' contributions are so much more than the school papers he turned in, the dishes he washed, the cigarettes he smoked, the girl he loved. Straight-up nature gives you no way out of the mechanistic loop it philosophically demands. Mechanistic world-views will always subject transcendence to condescencence, vision to number, meaning to description. If a transcendent God informs the world He created, then He informs it in transcendent ways. Even though we want to know what led to the last few minutes of Chris' life even to the extent of what his very last breath was like, and even though many of us won't be able to sleep or receive comfort or be settled until we do, we will never be comforted on the totality of that information alone, because Chris is more than the sum of his DNA. Chris was more than "a young Black man with issues."

Platonic bereavement can never replace Aristotelian bereavement else we are talking about ideals so loosely related to reality that we might as well be having a conversation about Chris in a looney bin. In kind, Aristotelian bereavement can never replace Platonic bereavement else we are talking about such a small portion of the universe apart from its relation to the larger context that when we talk about Chris we might as well be having a conversation about Chris in mathematical formulae. It is my contention that Plato and Aristotle were essentially saying the same thing. They merely drove a wedge between Zen, subordinating one "portion" to the other, respectively.

Ken and African-American Barbie look absolutely happy despite their contortions. Someone should invent a mood-change switch that compliments facial emotion to the level of pain those perverse dolls must be experiencing. I find it unnerving to see the two factors at such odds with each other. When will I be happy again? I am happy. Should I be sad? I am sad. When will I get over it? I am getting over it. When will it hit me? It is hitting me. Why don't I talk in classical antithesis and make it easier for everyone to understand me? Because I think it is about time that Plato and Aristotle retire.

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