I just returned from my rooftop hammock where I was rereading the ever so brilliant, ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson and I got to wondering about the subject of Wisdom.
The book and the subject are totally unrelated although the protagonist, Case starts out in the novel as someone through his own design falls from grace but through a much unexpected intervention manages to once again find his place in the world.
It triggered a memory of a friend who passed away in 2009. I remember I was in the Miami airport returning from Peru and happened upon his obit while reading my hometown newspaper online. Alan’s death hit me hard. He was only 55 years old and was born a year before me.
Upon returning to Washington, DC I called his youngest sister to not just convey my condolences but also to ask after the life of her brother with whom I hadn’t spoken to in over 30 years.
It was a massive brain aneurysm that exploded, killing him instantly, and according to the autopsy flooded his entire head and throat in blood.
I think about Alan from time to time: all the way from his wasted life (literally and figuratively) before the thoughts become directed more inward and I realize that his life could have been my life. That’s how close to the edge I once lived but through a multiplicity of miracles I remain here on Planet Earth as God’s own fool.
Wisdom, what is it?
I believe it comes from making a series of – not just one, but several – mistakes, surviving, and then learning from them. That’s the working man’s origination of wisdom.
Learning from your death defying mistakes hopefully leads you towards a new morality. That’s the road Wisdom wants to put you on. The next step is being able to totally objectify all your decision making while still maintaining your creative subjective self for other endeavors. Easier said than done.
Anger, which I still carry a lot of, blocks that objective process for me. That’s my personal barrier to Wisdom. God knows I’ve done lots of crazy, dumb, stupid things in my life – and I’ve even repeated a lot of the same stupid things over and over. But here I remain. And I am firmly convinced you can’t have lived my life and still deny the existence of God.
The probability of surviving the dozens – literally dozens – of death defying situations I’ve been through in my life is proof enough for me of the existence of God. And the irony is that most of those encounters with death were self-induced.
Did you ever pass a car on a blind corner at 100 MPH? Or pass a car going up a big hill doing the same speed, in a convertible with the top down and no seat belt on? I did.
Did you ever go drag-racing as a teenager in over-powered cars on small country roads at night? I did. Many, many times.
Did you ever wreck a car while drunk? I have. Twice. In fact I couldn’t count the number of times me or one of my friends took to the wheel while way over the limit. If I had to guess, it would be well over one hundred times.
I remember one time – at an age when I should have known better – someone made the mistake of lending my friend, Denny his Corvette for a couple of days. We took it out one evening and took turns seeing who could take the overpass exchange from SPID (South Padre Island Drive) unto the Cross-Town Expressway the fastest. We did it over and over till we got bored.
Then sometime after midnight we picked up two girls on the beach (can’t say I can remember how we crammed the four of us into a two-seater) and somehow ended up down close to the Mexican border. That was something like two-twelve packs and 120 miles later.
Somewhere along the way we dropped the two girls off and were headed back home still driving at a very high rate of speed. It was about 3 am when we got pulled over doing something in excess of 100 MPH, the back was full of empty beer cans, and we both knew we were guilty as hell and going to jail.
The sheriff after approaching our pulled over vehicle, then indicated with a hand motion to roll the driver’s side window down before leaning into the car to survey its occupants and the damning evidence that positively filled up the back of the car.
He looked at the both of us and drawled, ‘You boys aren’t having some sort of medical emergency, are you?’ (To this day I still marvel at his gentle sarcasm.)
We replied very soberly in unison, ‘No sir.’
He then suggested we turn down the parade, head home at a safe pace and call it a night.
We replied very soberly in unison, ‘Yes sir.’
That example and all the rest are just some of the driving crimes I’ve committed. I’ve committed many others. To the best of my knowledge I’ve never killed anyone; at least not directly. Every other crime is up for grabs.
Amazingly I’ve never been arrested, never spent a night in jail and quite obviously, never gotten myself seriously killed (hyperbole intended) in the process.
There is much much more to the story of my insane little life. Thank God I finally more or less grew up by the age of twenty-one because I was seriously pushing the boundaries on so many different fronts.
But even in my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s I still managed to do some incredibly dangerous and stupid shit.
But we’ll save some of those stories for another time.
The point I want to end on is this. The ’60s and ’70s were dangerous times and it was the prevailing ideologies of the time that ignited the rebellion which caused so many of my friends to die young. Having lived through it, I can truthfully say there was nothing at all romantic about the ’60s.
The 1960’s produced some bad, untested belief systems which led to poor lifestyle choices which in turn produced an outstandingly high body count. If the lifestyle didn’t kill you right off in an apropos Darwinian way then it most certainly caught up with you later.
Half my childhood friends today are dead from philosophical suicide. Although most of them were probably too drunk or stoned to know that it was their ill thought out philosophy which actually pulled the trigger.
In all honesty, Alan was a major dick. That’s why we quit speaking so many years ago. But I tracked him like I have many other of my old friends just mostly because people fascinate the hell out of me.
I could never have predicted Al’s demise, although it was right there in front of us the whole time. I might have at times acted stupidly. He was just plain crazy.
I write about these things because writing helps make me make sense of it all. One can read about concepts like Wisdom, knowledge and moral virtues all they want but at some point the onus is on us to figure those things out for ourselves.