Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Climactic Moment

How not to begin an essay: in the heart of a paradox that only a motivated reader wants to read. This will only draw you in if you want it to.

We sit in the torture cell. The quintessence of the solitary, the alone, the desperate. Why? Because there’s no help there. Whoever is the torturer – whether it’s Jack Bauer (you would have to be the bad guy), renegade government agents, Saddam, Pinochet – it’s down to a test of wills, and to you. Can you measure up? Can you handle it?

This might be an essentially male preoccupation – measuring up against the ultimate test: another male who wants to destroy you, physically and mentally: a battle of the wills. James Bond often faces torturers and prevails; so did John McCain. When I was in elementary school, I had a close friend, Jonathan Silverman, who had a slightly younger brother, David. They would often play torturer and victim, with one affixing a naked light bulb to the bottom of the upper bunk bed and beginning the interrogation. Their dad, a World War II veteran, talked often of the Japs and what they did to prisoners.

Now you are in the room. All the cards have been dealt. It’s time to play your hand – what you have inside, what resiliency and strength you can count on. Where does that strength come from? Is it from memories, rigorous exercise, willpower?

The climactic moment – the time of testing – is a central metaphor in American life. Nothing seems to matter as much as measuring up when the time comes. Gary Cooper in High Noon is just the first example that comes to mind. But let’s step away from that moment from the time of testing. Is it true that life gets summed up in climactic moments?

There can be no true preparation for a moment that doesn’t set all other moments as equal to it. Here’s the paradoxical statement I talked about. As opposed to the idea that nothing counts until the climactic moment, it seems to me that all moments count equally, and what you bring to one moment you bring to all, even to climactic moment.

If there is truly no future and no past, if time is really an illusion, then striving shrinks to the moment of the present. The intense giving of the self to the moment is all. It prepares the way for all other moments, even the climactic moment of testing.

Can there be beautiful and timeless moments, without the whole fabric of reality being beautiful and timeless? No; it must be that we are just not seeing the beauty; it flashes and shines, winking in and out, like stars passing behind a satellite. But the fabric draws together, the more we give ourselves to the moment.

It must be possible to build velocity, so that the moments blend together and one becomes airborne in the light of the moment.

So, the time for bullshit must be over; that is, the time to resist giving in to the moment. The time to resist being the best one can be, giving and striving to the utmost, relaxed, but not in control.

Preparation and anticipation become part of the climactic moment. Just as they do before a sports contest, sex, or the SAT’s -- the waiting, conditioning, imagining, careful planning make the climactic moment stretch out to encompass the moments before. Like the top of a mountain, it’s impossible to really conceive of it without the rest of the mountain being there.

So, sitting in the torture cell, I am the sum of all of my giving to the moment, all of my truthfulness. The torturer folds up his chair. I have remembered who I am.


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