Time and Age

Two old people on a park bench; and, of course, the image is one of time passing, of coiffed cauliflower clouds lazily drifting above, bringing passing intermittent shadows on a windblown fall day. A man and a woman; as the jogger passes by, seeing these two elderly figures sitting near, but not intimately so, to one another; the identifying passing thought: an old couple; grandparents; old people from another time. Such thoughts are often fleetingly dismissive; for some reason, each generation believes that theirs is “the one”; that those who are old are irrelevant; that grey hair and wrinkled foreheads; that deeply etched lines showing decades of smiling; of accordion-shriveled upper lips; of canes revealing painful arches and arthritic knees somehow diminishes one’s being.

The young are too busy with projects, plans and purposeful pursuits; Heidegger recognized the profound lobotomized bifurcation of our lives: old age and death are the penultimate ontological end; how we divert our focus upon that telos is the singular key for the young; for to ruminate upon our death is to become overwhelmed with existential angst; of the Prozac generation that we have become; for it is indeed our projects and hobbies which provide the diversion from such ruminations; and so the old have endured and survived, only to come ever so closer to that end which they spent their lives attempting to avoid; for death comes “like a thief in the night”, and all that we can do is hope that our projects and diversions will keep us occupied until the time of eternal slumber.

But it is still a puzzle, is it not, why the young view the old as irrelevant? The old are a source of wisdom, or should be; as Confucius once stated, By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and Third by experience, which is the bitterest. But to imitate would be to remind one of impending death; to experience would take us away from our diversions; and to reflect would mean we would have to face ourselves. And so the old are passed by; as joggers see the world peripherally, in a whisk of blurred images, of trees and rectangles of sidewalks; of pets being walked and automobiles passing; and two old people on a park bench. Lovely couple. Old. What’s my schedule for this afternoon?

Time passes; the daily engagement of diversions must be attended to. Otherwise, we may be forced to reflect upon the very worth of our being, and the worthiness of those very diversions which are meant to occupy our thoughts.

For, who among us can freeze time at any given moment of our lives, and honestly declare that we are acting as worthy stewards of such a precious commodity?

Third Parable: Kitaro and the Blind Beggar Boy

Kitaro was a Monk of the Fifth Order; he was ranked by the Society of Elders to be “other-worldly”.  He had lived through the Purge of the Daiku Shogunate; he had survived through the Winter of Three Famines.  He was known throughout the Kinshu Province as The Wise One.  Wisdom was spoken without words; strength was displayed through a stare; Kitaro was visited by princes and royalties from the world over; he owned nothing – but a teapot and two teacups.

On this beautiful morning, with the sparrows chirping in the blossom of the radiant rock garden of Koishu Gardens, where the gravel had been carefully swept in symmetrical flowing waters around the moss-covered boulders, Kitaro was about to sit down for his morning tea.

The morning had seen many beggars wandering about, asking the Monastery for some rice.  One such beggar had been a child of ten who was blind from birth.  What irritated Kitaro – well, perhaps ‘irritated’ was too strong a word, for he had shown no such emotion – was that the boy was, in his opinion, slovenly as well as being blind.  A man can shut out the world with total darkness, Kitaro had thought to himself; but the world still sees such a man.

He prepared to sit down for a cup of tea; he could smell the sweet aroma of the boiling tea in the teapot; he stood just a foot away from the table upon which he sat each morning; and as he customarily did, he turned to the Koishu Gardens to survey the meditative serenity, so that when he would sit, he need not turn to the garden for further refreshment; his mind’s eye would already hold the butterfly’s dream, to enjoy along with the taste of his morning tea.

As he surveyed the beauty of the garden’s lack, he marveled at how beauty is not in the abundance, but in the un-ness; that life was not to be discovered in possessions, but rather in the joy of less-ness; and these life-lessons he had learned well, for he owned nothing – but for the teapot and the two cups, of course – and his joy was not found in material wealth, but rather the simple chirp of a sparrow landing upon the twig of a decaying tree, unbeknownst to the world, as decay is merely the lifespring of age, both of the soul, as well as of the body.

The material world had no hold upon Kitaro, and Kitaro had long ago renounced the materiality of the world around him.  By owning nothing – except for the teapot and the two cups – matter could not matter to him.  As he surveyed the vast desolation of the beauty of the Koishu Gardens, the right side of his lips curled ever so slightly, as if to scoff at the world around him; for the butterfly’s dream was the world he embraced; the material world had no hold upon him; the serenity of un-ness was the world he sat on top of; the rampant greed, and world of capitalism, the vulgarity of consumerism, and the unhappiness of the surrounding universe – he had conquered it all.

Kitaro embraced the serenity of the moment; the moment was as a grain of sand, its quiet beauty as uncomplicated as his own soul; the smallness as significant, as relevant, as existential importance, as man himself.  Kitaro felt no emotion; felt only oneness with the grain of sand, with the peace of the Koishu Gardens.

Suddenly, the serenity of the Koishu Gardens was shattered by a loud crash.  Kitaro turned.  Before him, just a foot away, was the stupid blind beggar boy.  Beside the stupid blind beggar boy were the remnants of what used to be Kitaro’s teapot and two cups, the sole possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order.  “Bakka!” Kitaro shouted, his face turning a crimson radiance.  “Bakka!”  The Koishu Gardens, with their serenity of un-ness, remained unmoved.  The upheaval of the world around never witnessed this episode.  The sudden heaving; the blind fury directed at the beggar boy who was blind from birth, but who committed the unforgivable sin of being stupid, and showing that stupidity by shattering the sole material possession of the Monk of the Fifth Order, revealing how such a small matter, indeed, mattered to Kitaro.

Doing Philosophy and Law

Is wisdom determined by the answer, or the question? Or is the circularity of such a question in and of itself the key to its own answer? How does one attain a state of character, a state of being, such that one has become “wise”? Is this even a relevant question anymore? Are men today attempting, through a life of virtuous activity, to attain a sage-hood stature? Should that not be the goal of each man? Have we become so lazy that we no longer aspire to such a status? I once had a professor who began the class by telling us that he was not interested in our opinions; we had no right to opinions until we gained sufficient knowledge to form such opinions. That systematic methodology is no longer upheld today; with deconstructionism and the post-modern view that all opinions are equal; that relevance and weight of logical force, recognition of facts, truth, and validity – all are subjugated to the overarching primacy of the value of “equality”.

But despite the subjugation of Truth to relativism; the absolute anarchy of ideas today, where blurring of distinctions between facts and opinions, between a logically sound argument and an emotionally-charged slogan of vacuity – the primacy of truth may still emerge, when the extreme of mediocrity is once again recognized. I am always profoundly struck, each time I reread Aristotle, by the sheer force of his wisdom. For example, meditate upon the following excerpt from Book III, Chapter 1, (995a – b) of Aristotle’s Metaphysics:

We must, with a view to the science which we are seeking, first recount the subjects that should be first discussed. These include both the other opinions that some have held on the first principles, and any point besides these that happens to have been overlooked. For those who wish to get clear of difficulties it is advantageous to discuss the difficulties well; for the subsequent free play of thought implies the solution of the previous difficulties, and it is not possible to untie a knot of which one does not know. But the difficulty of our thinking points to a ‘knot’ in the object; for in so far as our thought is in difficulties, it is in like case with those who are bound; for in either case it is impossible to go forward. Hence one should have surveyed all the difficulties beforehand, both for the purposes we have stated and because people who inquire without first stating the difficulties are like those who do not know where they have to go; besides, a man does not otherwise know even whether he has at any given time found what he is looking for or not; for the end is not clear to such a man, while to him who has first discussed the difficulties it is clear. Further, he who has heard all the contending arguments, as if they were the parties to a case, must be in a better position for judging.

At its most fundamental level, of course, the doing of philosophy (if there is such a thing) is nothing more than the pursuit of wisdom – to love knowledge, to go after paradoxes and thought-provoking conundrums; to love wisdom for the pure joy of meditative challenges; and part of that process is to confront those ‘knots’, those difficulties; for it is the tackling of those difficulties beforehand which then clears the path for greater knowledge. In this day and age, knowledge is no longer revered; intellectual laziness abounds, for the individual believes that that which he does not know, he can always google. But you cannot google the untying of a knot; you must take the time to attain knowledge by meditating upon the untying of knots; and in that process, one is doing philosophy.

Prior to becoming an Attorney, my first love was Philosophy. I studied Philosophy at Catholic University, then went on to the Graduate School of Philosophy at the University of Virginia, where I had the opportunity to study under Richard Rorty, who was in the Humanities Department at the time. But the practical problems of life intervened, and to become an Attorney was, for myself, the perfect melding of an intellectual component with the practical aspect of being able to make a living. It was a knot of life which I contemplated for quite some time; now, twenty years later, I love the life of law; of the intellectual component of researching Court opinions; the logical component of making sound legal arguments; and the practical aspect of actually helping my clients secure their financial future by obtaining disability retirement benefits for them. And during these twenty years, I have had the freedom to continue to read philosophy, to meditate upon multiple philosophers – from Plato and Aristotle, to Kant, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Popper, Putnam, et al, and to continue to untie the bounds of knots, within the loving circle of my wife and three wonderful kids.

Silence

In the West, and especially in the United States, silence is an uncomfortable state. At a party; at a gathering; with a chance but brief encounter; silence cannot be sustained; it must be expunged, invaded, violated, shattered and engulfed. The concept itself is rarely spoken of in its singular modality; instead, it is often hyphenated and combined: “uncomfortable silence” or “embarrassing-silence”. Thus, the very concept itself has come to be understood as that which is unpleasant or undesirable. It is a void which must be filled; music, conversation, laughter, banter, platitudes, politeness, complimentary dialectics, rhetorical flourishes, conjugated dialogues – each has a place, in its rightful time, in its proper context. But so does silence.

Often, at gatherings, in medium to larger crowds, I find myself silent; listening to others speak; being polite but watchful; I enjoy listening to others. Some find that I am aloof, or sometimes even unfriendly; yet, I find that silence is a state of comfort for me. In the early morning hours, when I pray or meditate, it is important sometimes to listen; the prattle of our thoughts are neither profound nor informative to God; the utter self-contradiction between our stated belief and our actions: If indeed we know God to be omniscient, then do we not also know that He knows our thoughts even before we speak them? Thus, our conversations with God must sometimes take a different road – that of silence, and listening to the quiet voice of God. In the meditative silence of the early morning sunrise, when the robin speaks, the radiance of God pervades with a subtle but persistent explosion of Being – of revealing the being-ness of the world; and our human apparatus to perceive the Being-being-revealed; only in silence can we experience that moment of dawn, when God whispers to us through the revelation of his Being, as the robin knows each day.

Poetry, the Cab Driver, the Moon and a Life Well-Lived

As one grows older, hopefully the wisdom one possesses reaches an equivalency to the extent of gray in one’s hair, or the depth of wrinkles; and perhaps that wisdom is expanded in direct correlation to the differing breadth of perspectives and stories which one has encountered and collected throughout the years. By ‘stories’, I don’t mean fictional make-believes; rather, everyone has a story to tell, and that story of one’s life is a collected stream of events, encounters, vignettes of joyful explosions, puddles of grief, streams of memories with pock-marks of tragedies, comic situations, and in the end, a determination as to the life well-lived, or?

Read Anton Chekhov’s brilliant short story, Grief, in which the death of a cab-driver’s son leads to a multiple series of attempts to speak to passengers about his tragedy, and the utter lack of compassion between the strangers who wish to go about their lives; the clash of the humanity of the driver with the perspective which we all have — that the person we pay to transport us to a destination is not treated as a subject, but rather an object. That relationship is one of a contractual obligation — he is being paid to provide a service of transporting me to a specific destination, and of course we do not have time to listen to his subjective life — of personal grief or tragedy.

A ‘life well-lived’ — that is a difficult concept to embrace. Like grasping a fistful of sand and watching your palm become a swift and unforgiving hourglass the harder you close your fist. Once, a Japanese woman commented to me that we Americans destroyed all poetry by landing upon the moon, and showing the world needlessly that the moon was nothing but a composite of rocks, craters and lifeless soil; that the poetry which once filled the night air with its grandeur and beauty was forever relegated to a memory, now nothing more than a round tundra of cold, sallow realities; poetry died with the landing of man on the moon; romance was murdered; beauty became defined in systematic, scientific terms; and metaphor melted away with an avalanche of pragmatism, forever banished to the dusty bookshelves somewhere in the darkness of forgotten works, with Homer, Shakespeare, Blake; for who reads poetry? Who needs poetry? Science has taken the helm of hero-worship; we look only for what works, and what is profitable to man. But at the end of it all, one still has a need to ask: What is a life well-lived? And to answer that question, we need to look not only at the moon to see the poetry within the lifeless rocks and craters of shivering darkness; we have to look at the cab-driver and hope that he does not have to tell his story of grief to the horse at the end of the day.

Some Initial Thoughts

A “blog” is an inherently dangerous forum for an attorney; for it is a blank slate that welcomes the fool to fill with vacuous thoughts. Let me first provide a bit of background and introduction, to provide a context: my first love has always been Philosophy. That is why I went to college to study – it was not to get a degree; it was not to go to law school (at least, not initially); it was to read and understand the great philosophers, from the Pre-Socratics to modern day Deconstructionists, Postmodern philosophers, etc. It was a discipline – a complex system of thought by brilliant minds beyond the reach of a young man who was mesmerized by the brilliance of such conceptual systems and fabrics of thought. I ended up majoring in Philosophy; then going on to Graduate School at the University of Virginia. After completing my Master’s coursework and beginning to write my thesis on Berkeley’s philosophy, I realized that my love of Philosophy had waned; perhaps I realized that I would never reach the heights of such brilliant minds as Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, etc.; I desired to do other things. I went to law school; it was a natural step, because law allows for one foot to remain in the world of conceptual systems of logic and argumentation, while placing the other foot into the world of practical application and concretely helping clients. Still, after almost twenty years of being a lawyer, my first love is still Philosophy – and I have, in my spare time, while happily married to my wife of 25 years, and bringing up 3 beautiful kids, been able to enjoy reading a wide range of philosophers, and am thankful that I learned the “discipline and methodology” of philosophy, and that the works of such great minds have become less intimidating to me over the years. For “Philosophy” at its core and simple definition, is merely the “love of wisdom” (as all young Philosophy students learn in Introduction to Philosophy 101); but wisdom comes with age; and, hopefully, the fact that I am older has granted some semblance of wisdom.

That provides a short background; it is about the extent of my comfort level in being “personal” on a blog.

Now, my thoughts for the day: The tools of an attorney are words; the method of delivery rhetoric and argumentation; the conceptual framework, logic; the foundation of justification – a Court’s opinion. In a recent local case that I was involved in, I pointed out that lawyers are often criticized – albeit justifiably – for thinking that by the sheer power of words, we are able to shape reality. We think that, because our tools are words; because we have learned from law school and honed in trial practice the method of argumentation; and further, because we see the practical impact of our words, we come to believe that words themselves can shape the reality around us. I pointed out, however, that it is facts which shape reality; not words. Upon reflection, of course, such an argument is a rather conceptually muddled argument; for facts are certainly framed by words, and so to argue for a bifurcation of “facts” from “words” is in itself confusing. But beyond such confusion, the primary point I wanted to make was that it is vitally important for the integrity of the “profession” of an attorney, that we use the “tool of words” carefully, such that our tools are constrained by Truth, and not mere expediency to win a case.

I believe that our world – the profession of Law – has been diminished in recent years by too many people abusing and mis-using the tool of words to merely win; at the expense of Truth.

I have attempted to represent my clients to obtain disability retirement, in the best way possible, by utilizing the tool of words; while attempting to maintain the integrity of Truth, and thereby the “profession of Law”. In many ways, my job has been easy – my clients are people with medical conditions which seriously impact their lives; it is merely my job to use “words” to accurately describe the “facts” of how their medical conditions impact their ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs.