The corpulent professor walked beneath the flashing sign holding his hand over the crown of the hard hat to keep it in place. His white medical jacket, stolen from the local hospital and worn under the misconception that the jet propulsion lab would be full of others wearing such uniforms, drew de trop attention. Just trying to blend in, to appear native to the lab and the scientific experiments going on around him, and his efforts fated him to appear, not as a black sheep among a white flock, but as a wolf muscled in and howling next to the bleating lambs. He shed the jacket once he rounded the corner. Appareled in his cotton blazer with suede elbow pads, pocket protector and cowboy boots tucked into his threadbare 501s, the professor continued to attract asinine looks from the scientists and engineers scurrying by him. He rounded one more corner and found the motion-sensored doors leading to the clean room.
Inside, the professor hung his hat on the coat rack and advanced toward the lone scientist. It pleased the professor to see the scientist donned in his high tech bunny suit with bouffant covering his hair. Pleasing too, the containment area remained silently vacated, except for the lone scientist. The scientist turned toward the professor and with the same asinine look his colleagues had given the professor, he signaled for him to leave the room. The professor moved forward and signaled for the scientist to have a seat in a small cubicle area situated along the north wall. The scientist mistook the cocksure arrogance of the professor as a superiors bidding and followed the professor into the hushed corner. The professor waited for the scientist to sit down then pulled up a chair so as to be face to face with him. This tête-à-tête caused the scientist to realize he had been duped by someone who obviously, according to the beads of sweat accumulating on his forehead, did not belong in the clean room.
“What are you doing here sir? Don’t you know they will have you arrested for entering an area requiring security access?” the scientist asked boldly. The professor took a handkerchief from his inside blazer pocket and wiped clear his forehead. “I know the risk I run by being here, but I needed someone who could answer my questions.” The professor spouted out his intent and then sat back relieved. The scientist stared at him, wondering if perhaps he suffered from an ailment affecting the brain. “You know I am a scientist, don’t you? You know I cannot answer the questions you will put to me unless they involve my area of expertise?” The professor smirked, revealing one golden crown. “Precisely why I have come to you and no one else,” he answered the scientist. “Precisely why,” repeated the professor under his breath.
The scientist sat back in his chair and looked over the professor. Another disconcerting feeling invaded the scientist’s chest. How did this guy get by security? Not wanting to waste his time, the scientists stated, “Very well then, if you are compliant with my rules, I will answer your questions. What did you say your name was?” The professor stood up, shuffled toward the scientist and stuck out his hand. “They call me ‘the professor.’ I teach English up at the university.” The scientist shook his hand and sat back in his seat worried. Even though the professor could be categorized as eccentric, to write him off as crazy might be a mistake. The task at hand now seemed anything but trifling for the scientist. He had heard of the professor’s notoriety among the academicians.
“You were saying,” the professor drew back the scientist’s attention, “you have some ground rules.”
“Yes, yes. Some ground rules. Simply stated professor, I don’t know what troubles you, and my area is very particular. If the questions you ask do not pertain to my area of expertise, I must forbid myself from answering them. If you can abide by these rules, then let us begin our interview.”
The professor began. “The world seems despondent. It seems to have swallowed its soul. Women no longer behave as they once did. Little children scoff at their parent’s rules. Men no longer leave the nest nor wish to grow up. Literature has turned pessimistic. Religion lost its mystique. Television portrays an ugly picture. Has our knowledge doomed us?”
“None of these problems adhere to the realm of science. You must ask a social worker, equal rights activist, psychologist or someone else for an answer,” replied the scientist.
The professor continued. “Love seems to be a game. Women toy with a man’s heart. They fondle it. Feel it beating in their hand and then they apply the pinchers. Men wear precious metals, hose themselves down with fragrance, spend hours in gyms, never leave the large mirrors, yet others spend their time seeking whores, or playing video games, unwilling to invest the time to get to know the opposite sex. Little children grow up too quick. They seem to precociously fill the void that the adolescents leave so hollow, but this isn’t a child’s world. Predators prowl every corner. Have we lost the will to love?”
“These problems are way over my head. Have you consulted your horoscope or gone to see a psychic, or a doctor of love perhaps? It seems like they could help you more than me.”
Beads of sweat now dripped down the professor’s head. He seemed agitated as the conversation wore on. “So much death. It used to be one would pick up the paper and pass over the obituaries without even thinking someone they knew might have died. At least, until a person turns seventy that is how it went, but now, death lurks everywhere. Wars and rumors of wars. The drug peddlers have a fix too sweet for the young ones to pass up, and we are talking about bright youth here, not the poverty stricken, not the mendicants. Death has crept under the doorway and hides in the closets of the most luxurious mansions. Stars, athletes, singers, none are immune to death’s newest prattle. Has our fascination with death increased or is impending doom propelling us on? I used to believe evolution progressed toward perfection, but the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century has proved me all too optimistic. Is the world coming to an end?”
“These wars you speak of, ask a militant man. Death, ask a mythologist or a profound philosopher. The end of the world, well now we are getting warmer. This at least is in the ballpark of science, but it isn’t my area of expertise.”
The professor’s face turned red and continued to drip sweat. He took off his blazer and haloes of perspiration wrapped around each arm as vigorously as Saturn’s B ring. He spoke angrily. “The world is a hateful place. People use people. People kill for resources, for economical gain. The downtrodden have always looked to, and hoped for, a messiah, a god to come and rescue them from their miserable lot. So much has been written about the pacifist, the believers, those who hold onto faith amidst the awfulness of the world. These believers are being swallowed up, are turning sour, crusting over, becoming bitter while they wait for God. Of course you do not know the time, but will God come and rescue those who hold on. Will they be captured up in a cloud of glory as the earth burns? Perhaps, even more direct, is there even a god to place hope in?”
The scientist looked at the professor with a wry smile etched upon his face. He swayed back in his chair and put his hands behind his head assuredly. Kicking his feet up and placing them on the desk situated to the side of the two, the scientist responded to the professor: “Now you have come to the right person. That is a question I can definitely answer.” The professor leaned forward on his chair, paying the utmost attention to the scientist. The scientist’s wry smile turned to a downright smirk, revealing two golden crowns.
This piece falls under my semi-alter ego. It is one of many with John Driscoll as the protagonist, the father of thoughts I have but deny.
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.