He analyzed the precepts of renowned philosophers: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, and he was able to plumb the psychological depths of subjects few dare venture into. He was well versed in poetry and could recite the diverse canons of the greats ranging from Shakespeare to Milton, Blake to Stevens. If necessary, he could even pen his own heartfelt sonnets of sublimity. He had studied the physical and life sciences, and one minute he could rehearse on the formation of the earth or the vast expanses of space, and the laws pertaining to both. The next minute he would explain how a plant grows or how a cell splits. He knew art, its movements, its theories, its aesthetic. He had spent countless hours scrutinizing theology and fathoming the world of faith and God. He had spent night after night in humble prayer, attuning himself to the subtle and soft sounds directing the unseen circles twirling and twisting in melody through all facets of life. In a phrase: he knew himself, and he knew his place in the cosmos, and he knew beyond a doubt, of all the unseen sensations, love was the reigning force—stronger than hatred, mightier than hunger.
John Driscoll set off with love as his guide and goal. He was to meet Rose in about twenty minutes. He would ask for her hand in marriage. Everything had been calculated. Through his keen ability to reason, he had not only influenced Rose, but he believed he had convinced her that the two of them were to be together. He proved this through postulations and equations, through explications and derivations, all of which made no sense to Rose, but, nonetheless, could not be refuted. Above all else, he had keyed her in on the bond—the most powerful bond—of love, existing between the two. “Simple mathematics. Basic physics,” John would explain. “And two hearts beat together as one.”
John did not know mathematics and physics were topics Rose detested. Theorems and equations functioned on an abstract plane, and Rose liked things to be more concrete. She was enamored by the physical not the metaphysical. Having a mother who married a short man, Rose was taught at an early age how height and good looks were more important than anything else, even love.
And so, when all five foot four inches of John, guided by love’s subtle whisper, by its melodious urging, slunk down to one knee and asked for Rose’s hand, she did not see the submissive act as one of time honored tradition or of servility. Rose only saw the monstrosity of a compressed man, and that of a man who even raised to full stature still seemed too small for her taste. Without thinking twice, Rose declined his offer and wondered how someone could be so misguided as to think just because she liked to listen to his suave elocution she would love him.
John, too, wondered how he could have been so misguided. Did he get his spiritual antennae crossed? Wasn’t he listening to the omniscient melody that twists and turns throughout his life? Did love with its perfect knowledge strike on the strings of his heart as a joke? John went home with a dark nebulous of depression and anger hanging over his mind. Gone was his earlier notion that a presence, a melody, an actual magnanimous being somehow guided his life. How quick things fall apart, thought John. He tried to grasp what had happened. His acute sense of reason came up with the following list to mull over: First, no amount of philosophy could help him fathom what had happened—he had entered the realm of emotion, and emotion did not follow ratiocination. Second, the suffering was unfathomable; there were not words to describe it. Third, if he had prepared his whole life for this moment, and had been guided on by a force exceeding human comprehension, and, in essence, been rejected by the very force, or if the rejection had come by the object the force had led him to, no cognizant higher power could exist. No God would be so cruel to its subjects. This world was as absurd as well-learned men had for centuries proclaimed.
John thought about the shotgun he kept tucked under his bed. His emotions: the physical, mental, and spiritual strain from the past forty-eight hours, were too much for a rational being to bear. John tried to calm down by telling himself Rose was wrong and she would come around. This buoyed him up for a few days. It took John hours to fall asleep each night, and upon waking the burden he bore returned to him, but even so, he still had a thread of hope. “If she comes around, I will be sorry I have ended my life prematurely. If she does not come around, perhaps, I will be so far removed from the moment that the present pain will have already subsided.” John went on with his life. Weighed down, depressed, the shell of the man he once was, John tried to embrace the absurdity.
Two years later, the wedding invitation arrived in the mail. Two years is a long time to recover, but John had not yet learned how to deal with unrequited love. He had hoped some other woman would come along and efface the old image. It had not happened. Distraught, John took the wedding invitation in his right hand, and walked down to his room, counting each step as he went to divert his mind. When he got to his room, he took out a pencil and wrote the words “John’s Will” on the blank-white back of the wedding invitation. John pulled the shotgun, a Remington 870 Express his father bought him for Christmas, out from under the bed, put the barrel in his mouth and felt the cold steel and taste of rust. John contorted his knee and put his toe as near to the trigger as he could get it. He did not like the idea of using his toe to pull the trigger. He envisioned the act as an ignoble deed of self reviling self—almost like a dog chasing after its own tail, only with harsher repercussions. John turned to his “invitation-will” and was about to write something down when he began to go over his entire situation one last time.
For John, existential thought presented a truth beyond refutation when it asked the question: What did I do to deserve this? Resoundingly, the same answer echoed in his head: nothing. If no choice was required to initiate such vindictiveness, then life was not based upon the theory of action/reaction, but solely reaction. A life of reaction is the forfeiture of free will because reaction is instinctual, only action is a pre-conceived thought which must then be consciously manifested through motion—The Word made Flesh, or the thought turned into the deed. John made a list of what made his life so unfathomable. With a shaky hand, John wrote the number one down and then the following:
John’s Will (title already written)
1. I did not choose to love Rose. It did not come of volition but through random circumstances.
John had dropped a class due to a schedule conflict, and the only other open class was the one Rose happened to be in. She happened to be in the class because she had not fulfilled a diversity credit, and this was the last remaining class in the allotted time period. John did not select Rose as his study partner; they were assigned to each other by the professor. John did not choose to find Rose attractive, and he did not choose for his heart to palpitate in excess whenever they got close, or when she laughed, or when she touched his hand obviously accidental.
2. Once within the situation, there is no clear way out of the labyrinth.
John did not choose the emotional situation he found himself in, but now that he was within it, he could not control nor understand what was taking place. He did not know why Rose did not choose him. He did not know her refusal was based on something so petty but real as his small stature. He did not know why nothing made sense. Nor why, try as he might, he could not find a way out? He only knew forces beyond his capacity of comprehension had been set in motion.
3. The absurdity of the entire situation is causing the pain.
If he could move on, the situation would be over, but constantly in his head was the reminder of his loss, and the inability to prove his love to Rose. He would not have the chance to move on. His whole life of training had come down to a miscue.
John set the pencil down and looked at the shotgun for a moment. Trying to muster up the strength to work out his thought to its end, he remembered people who claim suicide is the most courageous act one can commit. John started over again.
With existentialists, the absurdity of life, its meaninglessness and its endless labyrinth, was not something chosen, nor could a person do anything about it. John tried to differentiate between his life’s circumstances and the general existentialists. He began by asking himself the question of why—why was the outcome of his unrequited love such an absurdity?
John came up with two possibilities. The first has been glossed over: Life is a riddle that makes no sense, and the absurdity verifies life in an existential world as unfathomable. The second reason started to make more sense to John. Absurdity was proof the trial—and John took to this word “trial” as if it were predisposed—John was currently undergoing was mandated by a higher power. With any other trial besides the one that came upon John, he would have been both prepared for and able to handle it. The trial which came upon him was the only possibility that would have squashed his current philosophies, his rationalization, and force him, if he be willing, to create a new self. Only against odds impossible to fathom must one abandon his own reason and seek a higher power. John remembered the old scripture his grandfather would quote: “Neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”
That life confronts us with absurdity then is what John termed “the call.” It is the critical moment when we are forced to go one of two ways. It awakens us to the stupidity of the world we live in and requires us to confront it. When someone is called, the common reaction is one of two choices: reject or accept it. It is not surprising most will reject “the call” and view it and the life that follows thereafter as simple absurdity impossible to overcome. However, if someone is to accept “the call” and trudge through something so absurd, something that does not make sense, the person chooses to do so of his own free will, and such a decision requires complete faith and humility and the abandonment of the human convention of reason if the soul is to overcome it and not get lost in the world’s conundrum. Thus, the person who perseveres amidst the absurdity is both called and “chosen”—another word John subconsciously produced.
But absurdity, thought John, was an existential invention not a religious one. Religion would claim all things serve a purpose and are divined by the God of this earth. John’s thoughts remained still for a moment. He had reached an impasse. John began to think about the trial of Christ. Wasn’t it absurd? he thought to himself. John began to measure the irony involved in Christ’s trial. He began by pondering the topic of innocence. How ironic, thought John, the innocent Christ, who had just left the garden of Gethsemane where he paid for the sins of all the world, including those who had come to profess his guilt and arrest him, was betrayed by a kiss from one of his own disciples. Then John thought about the trumped-up charges and the illegal trial? According to Jewish law, no less than seventeen laws had been broken that night, including: No person may be tried at night. John thought about how the witnesses’ stories did not corroborate Christ’s guilt, but certified his innocence and added to the absurdity of the entire night. Then John’s mind started racing as it thought about the ignoble circumstances surrounding Christ. John remembered how Pilate’s superstitious wife had a dream warning her not to harm Christ, and how Pilate, a heathen, a gentile, found no guilt in Christ, and how the chosen people did not recognize The Christ, and set free Barabbas, a known insurrectionist and robber, in his stead, and how Christ was hung among two common criminals, and as if all of this was not enough; John remembered that while Christ hung from the cross in agony, and at the very moment Christ needed His Father most, His Father withdrew His spirit from Him, leaving Christ all alone to die in the cruel. absurd world.
Then John uttered these words in poetic and affected soliloquy: although Adam’s expulsion from the garden may have ushered in the absurdity of life, Christ’s crucifixion was the apogee of all absurdity. The existential plea: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? attests to the complete absurdity of that moment. But the plea was not followed by a further denouncement of life’s aloneness. It was followed with the reconciliatory, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” Christ, left alone to die in an absurd world, under absurd circumstances, saw through the labyrinth by Himself, and when He was “called” upon to die so that all might live, He “chose” to accept the call and lay down his life.
John could not take any more. He could not stop thinking about the trial and subsequent death. If ever, he thought, there was a time absurdity reigned supreme on this world, it was then. And if Christ had to deal with the existential world on his own, if His life afforded Him no respite from it, how could John’s? That absurdity exists, and fills our lives, is nothing more than the affirmation God has left us alone to wander through the maze the world without his influence heeded, consists of.
John tore up the wedding invitation he had used to write down his will. He threw it away and chose, that very moment, to never think about Rose again. He chose to face life, to face the cruelty, the absurdity, the burden. John tucked the gun back under his bed, and weighted down as never before, he ran upstairs and outside and let the existential wind smack him square in the round face.