The Journal #23: Virtue

This was written over a single evening months before being published here; however, this has been stared at and repeatedly read without making a single change over countless cups of coffee. These included cheap instant coffee, coffee from a dingy cafe, coffee from one of the country’s finest estates, and some cold black coffee leftover in a pot. In the end, I decided to publish it exactly as I had written it. If there are any errors of logic or language, I apologise to my purist friends in the off chance they stumble upon this piece.

To whomsoever it may concern, I have something important to tell you. Please don’t panic. It’s not urgent, just important. Ah, yes. I understand the overreaction. We often fail to adhere to that difference. It is also an important difference. In any case, I want you to sit down, nonetheless. Important words reckon you to be at ease when you’re reading them, and these might be the most important ones I’ve written yet.

Another advantage of sitting down while reading something important is the fact that one can spring up in surprise. Reading words while standing does not give you that genuine physical expression of shock. I have always enjoyed watching a good man jump up as their face is taken aback and frozen in time for a moment. I relish in that moment. I truly do.

To come to the important matter at hand, it often comes up in conversation, both genuine and the kind that is fluff. You know when someone is too uncomfortable with silence, so they ask a question instead. The question being a sort of helpless cry into the void: do you think life is worth it? There are, of course, countless versions to that one question. I have, in my experience and by my rough count, heard it in about fifty different ways. I’m sure it is more than that for I have a terrible memory when it comes to questions that are asked for the sake of breaking silence. I enjoy silence.

I think I have found a reason to not kill myself. I’d be lying if I said I have always wanted to live. If we’re being honest, I have wanted to die for more years than I have wanted to be alive. In fact, as we speak, I’m sure the stray thought of “I wonder if this is worth it” will enter my conscience like it usually does. At least, it would’ve had it been a different day on a different month on a different year. I am much beyond all of it now for I’ve finally understood why I want to live, and it makes me extremely delighted to inform you that it is not for myself.

Before I go further, I must ask you to calm down. I am not of the opinion to do it and nor do I have the courage. I think the fact that I have been searching for alternate answers for years instead of just proceeding with the act is testament to my cowardice and inability to do it. That sort of haplessness often does come in handy in matters of life and death. Quite literally too, in this case. For if someone is impulsive or too proud in their general ability, they might not be as hesitant or doubtful or remorseful about the consequence of such an act.

In any case, I’ve realised that the urge to feel that living is pointless dates to the idea of expectations. All my life, I was told that I was meant to be great. I was never told what great meant or how I could start becoming whatever they thought I had to become. It was vaguery at best. It was false hope at worst. In the absolutely terrible, it was a thousand people putting the weight of their failed dreams on the shoulders of someone much, much younger than themselves. Whatever it was, it was unnecessary. In hindsight, this could all have been avoided had people been earnest in the words they used. If they had been, “great” would have never entered casual conversation.

The interesting part about people telling you something continually like a raucous repetition of sound in their ears is that at some point, you start to find it pleasing. Even if you don’t, you get used to the sound being around. Have you ever lived near a train track? If you did, like I did at one point in time, you would know that after a while you fail to acknowledge the passing train, its jarring siren, and the squeaking brakes until someone mentions them. That’s how intelligent the human mind is when it works uninterruptedly. It can make you feel at home wherever you are, provided you don’t interrupt it or force it to act a certain way.

In my case, I had no belief in my ability to be great. So, when I started to get used to the constant pestering of greatness because I possessed something a failed teacher at school, for instance, didn’t, I too started to get used to it. I didn’t believe it, but I sure let it play out and stopped noticing it. Two things happened with that: one, I couldn’t realise the pressure building up inside me, and two, I started to force my mind to work off of its usual balance. If everyone thinks you’re great and if you don’t act like it, you start to feel this sort of terrible pain.

The pain is especially higher if you’re younger. There’s a sort of inverse relationship there because young people have not yet experienced enough disappointment to get used to the sound of heartbreak in the background. For an adult, being dejected comes naturally. In fact, all of this could have again, been avoided, if adults didn’t get as used to the sound of dejection and the sadness of the everyday as much as they did.

Before we move forward and I divulge the reason for not wishing imminent death occasionally, I want to talk about the idea of heroes and legends. Why heroes and legends? Well because when we talk of greatness, we idolize. When we idolize, we are essentially converting those around us into longform myths and legends. That is, at least, my understanding of it. In any case, bear with me as I share what I have found out about heroes, in general, and why the general meaning of the word is terribly misguided.

Often, when we use the word hero, we attach it to a specific human being. I believe that is the wrong way to define a hero. A hero is not a person but the unique cocktail of virtues they exhibit while trying to help someone. Often, when we call a person a hero, we are trying to appreciate the traits they have which make them larger than life. A hero has only one job: to help. In that, the one path to greatness is through helping others. Greatness then is not about your feats in the context of your life but how you impacted others.

It was too late that I understood the difference, but I wonder if these things are ever too late in their arrival. There is often no condition associated but it is often accepted that for wisdom to be imparted, a person must go through something terrible or tragic or rattling. I have found that to be somewhat true in my unique experience as well.

However, I do believe that wisdom arrives as wisdom does, and it may arrive out of watching your loved ones break bread on the same table as much as it arrives out of jumping in front of a car only for it to swerve and not hit you. Then, sobbing as you try to understand what caused the disappointment you immediately felt: the car swerving or you being spared.

In any case, I have understood that the job of a hero is not to have songs written about them. The job of a hero is to be forgotten and lost through the pages of time, only to be remembered in stories and anecdotes of those who lived around them and whose lives they affected. There’s a reason so many legends of old fail to identify who the hero was, just that there was one. It could be anyone. It could be me. It could be you. As a hero, you had to be okay with being forgotten. Understanding that would get you one step closer. Being forgotten seals the deal. A hero lived for other people.

Consider a common trope, a village has a terrible calamity or an evil. Perhaps, a plague which is causing deaths all around or an oppressor. A hero enters the picture and helps the village folk battle whatever demon they are trying to overcome but failing. The hero’s exceptional virtue or the collection of his unique values is what inspires stories about him. To the village, this one person was far greater than all of them combined. So, they write songs and celebrate them.

Yet, over time, the name of this person is lost through time. Another generation comes along, and then another, and soon, more evils are conquered. More heroes arrive on the scene. Time keeps passing. The original hero we talked about is long dead at this point with him being mentioned in a few songs and stories which often disagree on the minute details of what truly happened. Now, from the village’s perspective, the hero is but one tiny speck in their vast history. The legend exists but it has now become smaller. As children learn of this hero, they learn of countless others, and now, they have a selection of ideal virtues to choose from to become great.

How must the children choose? As we discussed above, growing up with these stories of greatness and growing up around adults who do not have a collection of higher virtues within them, children are often expected to be greater. Some children who already possess an inkling of the desired virtues are often cherry-picked from the handful. Yet, as these children go about their lives trying to understand what is expected of them besides the vagueries of the word, they fall deeper into a pit of despair, of failing to become who they are meant to become.

As we also discussed above, this causes a terrible pain which is even more terrible in children for they haven’t yet gotten used to the idea of pain that has no apparent meaning like most adults around them have. Therefore, children then start to ideate on the idea that perhaps, it is all pointless or absurd. Yet, the constant raving of the idea of greatness and the seeming disconnect with the lives they live continue to add to the pain.

I think that is where this highly specific inquiry of why I have always wanted to not exist comes to a full circle. Since all my life I was expected to be greater, perhaps, because of some larger virtue I exhibited when young, I felt a continued disconnect from the idea of me that was great and the life I continually led. This was because there was an idea of greatness in my head, owing to the stories I was fed while growing up, that you had to be a singular hero to be greater. In my mediocre existence, however, the chance of becoming this hero whose name was remembered by all was impossible. It still is quite impossible.

So, now that I’ve understood what a hero means to me, and what their primary job is, I can start to accept the simple truth that greatness was not about yourself. It was about other people. Greatness was then, a favour. I do not mean that in a negative connotation however, but a truthful one. The idea of greatness makes it seem like you owed something to the world you had no choice but to step and exist into but greatness, in my present opinion, is a choice. It is a choice you make every day, but on some days, you had to understand that while being great was important, being alive was crucial. On some days, being alive was harder than being great. On those days, one must focus on being alive.

All that said, I also understand now that I want people to remember me, and yet, I don’t want to be a hero. My desire from my life is quite in line with what I was taught ever since I was a kid: to become great. Yet, I have now conjured up a unique definition of the word for myself. I want to be great in the way legends are great. I want to be great in the sense that I want to be remembered by those who are around me, for the time that they are around me, and then, I want to be forgotten or misremembered by the rest of history. In that way, I would become a speck in the history of generations of people. A tiny mark in the entire history of regular people who, at some point, exhibited a greater virtue.

What does that mean in, perhaps, the simplest terms? It means that I want to be remembered as I was when I was here. I don’t want to be a great anything. I want you to remember me as a time of day. Perhaps, the time of day often referred to as the golden hour where I’m the last instance of comfort and warmth before the cold evening sets in. I want you to remember me as a season, whichever brings you joy for I’ll be around you in all of them. I want you to remember me as a faithful old timepiece which never failed you, at least, as long as you were alive. I have realised that there is greatness in understanding that you live for those around you, for as long as you they are alive, and the simplest acts you can perform for them are, in themselves, great. The greatest virtue to greatness is living for the act itself. There is no large, looming reason for our existence. None of what we have around is owed to us. These buildings, this apartment I’m in, this cup of coffee I’m sipping is all unnatural. The only natural thing about our life is the fact that we protect our own, and if protection is too strong a word, we look out for our own. That is, in my opinion, the only strict definition of greatness.

I have now understood that I do not want to go on to feel the terrible ache of never becoming great or not knowing what it is that makes me greater. I understand now that the only way to live is to revel in the way wisdom arrives, irrespective of how, and to earn virtues in a way that they become your own genuine nature. I want you to know, whoever you are, that if you need me, I’ll be there, and for that I’ll be around, and for that, I’ll be here. I reckon it’s not a great reason to stay alive, but it is as good as any. Perhaps, it is better than most.

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