|La Santa Muerte
"We look at the world once, in childhood. / The rest is memory." Louise Glück
In my 79 year existence, my capacity to think began in 1958 at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas. My Brothers of Holy Cross were superb teachers and the best for me was Brother Edwin, Reggio C.S.C. who taught us religion. Unbeknownst to us, what he was really conveying to our class was theology of the Aristotelian and Thomistic kind via Saint Augustine. It was with Brother Edwin that I first heard of Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover.
In 1962 with philosophy classes at the University of the Americas in Mexico City my capacity to think was enlarged. My teacher was a philosopher called Ramón Xirau. From him I learned from the Pre Socratics to Martin Heidegger and Sartre. It was his explanation of the teachings of Epicurus that started for me with my fascination with death. I was troubled by what I thought was Plato’s back and forth unwavering of his ideas but by the beginning of this 21st century I was firmly a believer on his theory of ideas and the chained men in the cave who could not see reality as it really was.
I had an inkling of that when I read in that past century Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception where he postulates that our brain has a filter that prevents us from seeing raw reality and only drugs can bypass it.
My serious portal into thought began in an Argentine Navy brig. I had a cushy job as a conscript with the US Naval Advisory Group. This meant I had a secretary who typed my translations for the U.S. Navy Captain Onofrio Salvia and I could smoke a pipe at my desk with the best American tobacco.
But an Argentine Lieutenant Commander called me to his office and told me that I was to show up every day at 6 in the morning for two weeks for what he deemed was important work. I told him that this was impossible as I was staying at a pension and there was no train that would bring me to the office at that hour. He insisted, so I told him in plain Spanish, “Rehuso terminantemente obedecer su orden.” Controlling himself he told me that in time of war he could have me shot or he could send me to the Antarctic where the only females I would encounter would be penguins. He added that he was going to arrest me for two weeks and I would be next door at the Secretaría de Marina’s brig. This would ensure my prompt presence at his office at 6. With a little smile he then said, “I am going to do you a favour. The arrest order will not begin until tomorrow so I would suggest you go to a bookstore and buy some books. You will have time to read them in jail.”
At the nearby Pigmalion (spelled with an i) which sold books in English, I bought The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld and Carl J. Friederich’s The Philosophy of Hegel.
The first two books have been a continuing revelation and inspiration for me. I re-read them often. The latter was a struggle but I did learn about Hegel’s dialectics to understand the present world of extreme polarization by people who cannot go from theme to counter theme and arrive at synthesis.
In the last few weeks I have been giving Hegel a new consideration. With Rosemary alive she was my counterpoint. We would go back and forth and then we would arrive at a decision (usually hers). For 52 years I was guided with that synthesis sharing. Now I find it impossible as I have to weigh in with myself. There is no back and fourth mental journey.
The closest (it does bring with it nostalgia) is to think, “What would she have done? What would she have said?”
This brings me to the idea that as a young man I had many first experiences. I fell in love, I tried Argentine peach yoghurt, I participated in a coup as a sailor, but ultimately I had that important first, my father died. Then in 1972 it was my mother. And on December 9 2020 Rosemary died. The firsts now are not first one wants to pursue or have. They happen.
Ultimately there is one first that has no after. That is my statistically forthcoming oblivion. I must not fear it so Epicurus said.