Philosophy with Attitude

Jan A. Nielsen
English 501-05
25 February 1992


31 January, 1992. It is twilight, almost night, and I am walking through the cold to Congreve. The pretend bells in Thomson Hall strike five; perhaps they are merely recordings, but I still love the sound. I look up into the sky; it is that most perfect shade of blue, the clouds scattering each ray of light that hits my eyes. The colour is intense; I look away quickly lest I lose my footing to it. The volume is just a little too high on my tape player, but all the more compelling for that; it is Schubert, a quartet in A minor. Earlier today I played this quartet in the PCAC; for two hours I practiced, and allowed it to culminate in something of a recital: I put on the headphones, turned up the volume, playing with this imaginary quartet until my fingers were deeply indented by their pressure on the strings. That was the quartet in D minor, "Death and the Maiden;" it is positively driving, a word whose true meaning I did not entirely understand until then.

But as I look at the world around me, with these tempestuous sounds thundering through me, I hear something new: it is the terrifying scream of a fire-truck, two of them; they warn their way through the intersection, the first one blaring its horn at two bicyclists who have not moved. They move then; the trucks go speeding past, and for the first time I realize that those sounds, their cause, is not something far-off and unknowable; somewhere, someone's dreams are dying in a haze of flames. Perhaps they will be saved; perhaps not... and the very eventuality of it frightens me. Those are real people, real things, not like the report that will be in the newspaper, but a terrible reality.

I walk faster towards my destination, chilled by the air and the fear; I want someone to tell me it will be all right, to comfort me, just for a while to feel safe and secure... and there is no one to do so, not here, not now. And yet I pray a little for the people whose lives will be so changed, and a little for me; but will it be all right?

The night falls still around me again, and I shiver, reaching the door. I think of the fire once more, and then there is the warmth of the building... but there is no comfort in it. Is this how it ends, with a whimper, a moan? A simple "no" to end a life, a love? How can it ever be all right if such a thing is possible? But I will cry later; now it is time for living, if only for a little while...

23 February, 1992. And what of love? To the optimist, it is the fulfillment of years of dreams; it is perfect, blissful, everlasting; no matter what bad times there may be, they will not last for too long. To the pessimist, it is pain, interspersed with a few moments of vague happiness. To a realist, a combination of the two; there will be good day and bad; it may or may not work out; if it does, so much the better, but real life must always be considered. To the idealist... whatever love is, it must be complete. If there is pain, it must be for the eventual good of what may come, and it must be real. But there should not be pain; in love there should be only love, and pain is a pollution of that ideal.

Then, the idealist will ask, why is there pain? And she may look around herself and see that everywhere, there is pain... and there is also love. Somehow they coexist; sometimes intermingled, sometimes merely brushing for a moment and separating... but for a large part, they are so tightly woven that one can barely distinguish the two. Is this pessimism, or realism?

Has there ever been a love that did not also cause some pain? In the beginning, there may be confusion; confusion is painful. Even when love is established there may be jealousy, irrational though it may be; jealousy is painful. And if that love comes to an end... there is all the pain in the world. It may not last, and if we are fortunate we may not remember it as pain; but while it is there... what else in life can there be? Optimistically, love will come again, more complete and more full than ever before. Pessimistically, there will never be a love like that one; there is no hope for happiness in a world where love can cause such pain. Realistically, it happens; whether or not there is another chance depends entirely on life as it is. Ideally... here is the catch. Ideally, there should never have been pain to begin with; ideally, there could not have been love if there was pain.

But how can we say such things without first knowing exactly what love is? This is a question so fundamental to life that it cannot go unanswered... and yet for every human being one can find, there is a different answer. What they say may depend upon past loves, be they romantic or familial, or upon their philosophy of life, their religion or lack thereof, or upon their upbringing. But one thing remains virtually constant: if love is not reciprocated in some form or another, there is pain. There is no situation as pathetic as that of unrequited love, and none as hopeless...

In my own understanding, love is the fulfillment of an ideal; the object of one's affection is the personification of one's highest-held standards and values; they are the ideal, dangerous as it might seem. Of course one must acknowledge the fact that the "object" is human as well: no human is perfect, and not all expectations can be met. But this is ideal... as for myself, if it is possible, I am a realistic idealist. I am aware that there are imperfections, impossibilities, infatuations... but I don't have to like them, and I don't. Realistically, of course, there can be few, if any, of such relationships, but one can always hope... and I do. For now, at least. For a little while...

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