choices and philosophy

Recently, I finished reading “American Philosophy: A Love Story.”  It was published on October 11 and was written by a friend of mine from high school.  I obviously pre-ordered it.

We’ve long since lost touch ~ that’s the way of things when you head off to college and begin living your own life.  But Facebook always brings people back together (sometimes whether we want to be connected or not) and now, we are connected on the internet and can glimpse into each other’s lives.

I have good and clear memories of our brief friendship in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.  One night, after we’d gone out to dinner, we sat on bleachers in a neighborhood park, and while staring at a perfect sky filled with stars, John said to me, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

We were on the eve of college, both our young minds filled with the potential the future held.  He’d always been a philosopher ~ trying to make sense of chaos.  I’d chewed on that little idea for much longer than I ever intended.  I chew on it still.

I’d registered for a philosophy class my freshman year.  I bought Plato’s “The Republic” with absolute intimidation in my soul.  I didn’t finish that class.  Philosophy never really gripped me.   But I was young, and I hadn’t really faced down true pain and disappointment yet.

My childhood angst — if you could even call it that — was the angst of a child with parents who loved each other and loved her.  It was the baby angst of someone who had never known hardship.  A person who has never faced hardship could be forgiven for not having an interest in philosophy.

I cracked open the fresh hardcover book, and felt the weight of the paper that comprised the pages.  I looked at John’s photo on the back cover flap. He hadn’t changed since high school.  He looked exactly the same.  I started to read it standing up in the front hallway of my home.

It is an absolutely stunning book.  It snuck under my skin, filling my conscious and unconscious mind with questions, abstract ideas … thoughts and theories and more questions.  American philosophy, in my incredibly rudimentary understanding, is the quest to answer this question: Is Life Worth Living?  As I stare down my thirty-seventh birthday, this question seems much more interesting than it might have at eighteen.

As John writes about finding William Ernest Hocking’s library in New Hampshire, and the intellectual and spiritual journey that lead him on, he also teaches his reader about the foundations of American philosophy.  He teaches, but he also inspires his readers to learn more, to continue the quest for knowledge, and for answers.  For understanding.

There are a few things in my life that I studiously avoid sharing on this blog.  I’m sure there’s a good reason why, but I don’t really know what it is.  Maybe I’m ashamed.  Maybe not speaking about it makes it less real.  Maybe I’d like to forget.  But those things have probably informed more of my life than I’d like to admit.

My first (very brief) marriage broke me.  It changed me down to my DNA.  It devastated me because divorce devastated me.  It left me lost, and afraid, and alone and without any hope.  It made me question everything I’d ever been, everything I’d ever believed.  I lost myself after my divorce and it has taken me years to find myself again.  But out of that absolute desperation came my relationship with my husband.  With my best friend, the man who is the other half of my soul.  If the bad hadn’t happened, maybe the good wouldn’t have happened either.  So I have to settle into that, I have to figure out how to live with that.  Forever.

On January 25, 2015 John and I went to an open house.  We’d been toying with the idea of buying our first home.  And his job had finally made it a real possibility.  There were snow showers.  And as we sat in the car, reading our emails, my whole world fell apart again.

My mother’s cancer was back.  She would have to begin chemo again.  Maybe radiation.

I don’t remember all the details.  I remember John driving home to get Lucy and pack overnight bags.  I remember heading back to Chester County to see my parents.  To see my mother in person.  We stopped at a new townhouse community on the way ~ still in development. The next day, we put down a deposit.

I will never not associate our home — buying our house and moving down to Chester County — with my mother.  With the feeling of utter desolation that came when reading that email in the parking lot of a house we didn’t buy.  With the feeling of wanting to be closer as soon as possible.  And now, we are twenty-five minutes away (it’s 23! I hear them saying in my head).  We can be there if they need us.  I can see my mother all the time.  For as long as I can.  That feeling, of family and home, can’t be put into words.  Out of the most terrible things came beautiful things.  Like phoenix rising from ashes.

So when I picked up John’s memoir of his academic journey, but also his personal one, I began to understand why a person would dive into the abyss of philosophy.  To help heal wounds, to help restless minds settle, to help understand that which cannot be understood.  It not only comforted me, but it woke up a part of my brain that has long been lying dormant.  The part always thirsty for knowledge, for explanations, for questions without answers.

I told my husband (also John!) I needed to read the book again.  And then I needed to learn more about these people — men and women — who helped define American Philosophy.  He told me I should wait six months.  Let it sink into my brain, really ruminate on it.  Reach out to my friend if I felt so inclined.  He’s probably right.  (After all, his first major in college was philosophy).  My mind has been full for these past few weeks, full of questions, full of the history of my life. Full of the decisions I’ve made along the way.  Full of the things which brought me to this moment in time, this person I am.

And even now, tapping away on this blog post, I can’t begin to articulate everything that has happened since I opened that book.  But I know one thing for certain, and that is that I am grateful.