I’ve always been curious about philosophy, which is why I actually enjoyed this English project–a rare occurrence (sorry). The discussion of many of the major Western philosophies of the last few centuries throughout Grendel fascinated me, the way complex metaphysical systems were not only referenced but analyzed through the characters and events of the novel. In particular I appreciated the exploration of nihilism and existentialism. I at least partially subscribe to Sartre’s school of thought, so reading Gardner’s letter to the students allowed me to reconsider my views. Given that Grendel is largely about Grendel’s quest to determine how he should live his life, it is not surprising that Gardner believes human make up their own values, since there are not universal truths or guarantees. I found his declaration of this position to be a breath of fresh air, honestly, having grown up in a community in which criticisms of absolute morality (and religion in general) are generally met with disapproval.
However, I disagree with Gardner’s claim that our current society’s mark on the world will fade into oblivion. Clearly on a universal scale human actions are infinitesimal and insignificant, but the memory of our modern discoveries and values will not vanish on Earth–as long as the Internet exists, at least. Gardner could not have anticipated the existence of such an information network. His justification, referencing our ignorance surrounding the society responsible for erecting Stonehenge, does not hold water if we consider the power of the Internet. Stonehenge was built in such a primitive time that writing hardly existed, let alone a simultaneously virtual and physical database of trillions of ideas and events that could feasibly be printed with the help of some fancy computers and an army of printers. I appreciate his consideration of the transience of human life and society, but I believe the future of recording history has been forever revolutionized by the creation of the Internet.
I am FED UP with evangelical zealots screaming about how the United States is a Christian country, but that we must not accept Muslim Syrian refugees, or that we should surveil mosques, or that we shouldn’t spend our taxes on the sick, poor, and elderly. That’s not Christian.
I’m not a practicing Christian anymore, but I guess I missed the day in sunday school that discussed how we shouldn’t show mercy for those who think and look different than us. I don’t remember Jesus ever preaching that the poor just need to work harder, and that it’s not our responsibility to help them.
Philosopher George Santayana famously declared, “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.” Consider the current situation of Muslims in the US. Their places of worship are being attacked and vandalized. Politicians are calling for Muslims to carry special IDs wherever they go. This rhetoric is similar to that of pre-World War II Nazi Germany. And that’s not an unfair comparison, given our country’s history of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia.
A black man was kicked and beaten by an overwhelmingly white crowd at a (you guessed it) Donald Trump rally, as the attackers chanted “All Lives Matter.” A few days ago, a mosque in Pflugerville, Texas was broken into, feces smeared on the walls and desecrated Qu’rans covering the floor. We have seen a dramatic resurgence of outward racism and hatred in the United States, and I don’t see it slowing down soon.
I would like to point out that Jesus was, in fact, a refugee. A brown-skinned, non-Christian socialist. If He were among the Syrians fleeing certain death hoping to reach the United States, I have no doubt that most of our ultraconservative colleagues would turn Him away in a heartbeat.
So when Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz assert that we should only let Christian Syrians in, leaving our muslim brothers and sisters to die at the hands of our common enemy, ask yourself this: What Would Jesus Do?
The best advice I’ve received is more of a constant message from my parents than a statement: they constantly remind me that hard work, not intelligence, brings success. Both of them are remarkably smart and successful–they both have PhDs and teach biochemistry and genetics at A&M–but they understand the value of diligence, and for years have ingrained that within me. My parents came from very humble backgrounds, solidly working-class families, and used the opportunities at their hands to pursue their goals and improve their situations. They were the “smart kids” at their schools, and even in college, but they never took anything for granted, especially their money. Now, as I am a full-time student, they want me to dedicate myself fully to my education, still having fun, but treating school like a job. In my household it’s hard to be narcissistic, though; any time I share that I made a good grade in a class, they say “congratulations, only nine more years of school to go,” referring to their expectation that I will pursue a professional degree or a doctorate. It’s not so much about pressure, as much as it is about knowing that if I put in the work now (delayed gratification), I can reap the rewards later. I’m very privileged to be in the position I’m in, and I hope to make them (and myself) proud.
On a completely different note, the worst advice I have ever been given came from my hair stylist. In the eight grade, he had this vision in his head of me with a stylish crew cut, and for some reason, I let him go for it. That was an awful decision on my part. It’s not that I have a lumpy head or anything; it’s just that I looked like Caillou joined the Army. It was bad. I got made fun of SO MUCH the next day at school. One of the athletics coached shouted to me in the hallway, “Hey, Kapler, you got cancer??” Like what the fuck? Who says that? What kind of adult… what kind of teacher… WHAT? And honestly though, it wasn’t even that bad of a haircut. People suck.
In this interview O’Brien discusses the unsummarizable nature of his novel The Things They Carried. The book eludes categorization as a memoir or a work of fiction, as it uses fictitious events to describe real sentiments and thoughts in the author’s life. I found particularly interesting how O’Brien carefully weaves a character bearing his name and many of his traits and experiences as a means of divulging his own opinions without writing an autobiography. This technique creates a powerful trust between the reader and writer, as the memoir-esque nature establishes authenticity.
Looking back, I feel that the novel should be classified as fiction. Though O’Brien recounts experiences that parallel his own, it would be unfair to allow his made-up events pass as reality, regardless of the moral or informative “truth” they bear. Despite this, O’Brien’s writing technique establishes a bond with the reader that mirrors the role of a storyteller. As a lesson to future generations about war, The Things They Carried would not be nearly as powerful were it not for this connection between author and audience.
I have a hot dog for a pet,
The only kind my folks let me get
He does smell sort of bad
He absolutely never gets the sofa wet
We have a butcher for a vet
The strangest vet you ever met
Guess we’re the weirdest family yet
To have a hot dog for a pet
– Shel Silverstein
This has been my go-to poem for over a decade. In elementary school I presented this, from memory, to my second grade class; in the fifth grade, I wrote a short story about a boy that had a pineapple as a pet. Though it may not be particularly deep or symbolic, this poem was a standout favorite of mine, the most heavily-dog-eared page of all of my Shel Silverstein books. Though my intellectual appreciation of poetry and literature has grown, I’ll always enjoy silly, heartwarming poems like this.
“Why did they have to mix their women into everything? Between us and everything we wanted to change in the world they placed a woman: socially, politically, economically. Why, goddammit, why did they insist upon confusing the class struggle with the ass struggle, debasing both us and them- all human motives?”
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
At first glance, this passage made me laugh–after all, much of the novel is infused with this type of clever, understated humor. The narrator, at this point, is frustrated by The Brotherhood’s use of women to distract him and weaken his authority in New York. More importantly, however, Ellison reminds the reader of politicians’ and leaders’ humanity. Though the narrator is noble, he is equally susceptible to primal urges, such as infatuation and sex. In pursuing his goals of transforming the black community in New York, he must avoid allowing his human qualities to interfere, which is no easy task.
Under perpetual siege by North Vietnamese guerilla fighters, the 2nd battalion of the 501st infantry found no refuge in their remote jungle clearing encampment. Medic George Banda, during a routine night watch, was ambushed by a group of enemy combatants, and shot in the side of the head. He fought off the first wave of attackers alone, and then retreated to cover to hide from the burning white phosphorous raining from above. As the assault continued, Banda began acting as a medic–his actual role, not a foot soldier–and treated those wounded around him. His bullet wound was painful and spurred blood from a severed artery on his temple, but he recognized that it was not immediately life-threatening. Banda sprinted nearly a hundred yards to a pile of debris to rescue his friend Ed, who had been critically injured, dodging countless rounds being fired from the insidious jungle surrounding him, and dragged him up a hill to safety. Air support for the battalion did not arrive for hours, and George had to administer first aid to the best of his ability with severely limited supplies. Ed passed away as the evacuation helicopters appeared on the horizon.
I have never been a supporter of any war, and stories like these are precisely why. Such carnage and suffering, with each death–each loss of life–having such a negligible effect on the overall outcome. George Banda acted heroically, risking his life to perform his duty and save as many lives as possible. Yet the cruel irony is that he returned shots against the North Vietnamese, participating in the same killing they were exacting on his friends. In such a situation, on that scale, there is no moral high ground. Both sides are fighting for what they think is right (or simply following orders), yet they brutally slay other human beings to achieve a political objective. That being said, I have nothing but respect for Mr. Banda. He put his life on the line so that another might live; that is the noblest of any possible human action. Reading Banda’s explanation for his bravery brought a tear to my eye. He explains, “I’m bleeding to death… But I couldn’t leave Ed. He was my friend.”
It’s just a shame to know that others on the opposite side were experiencing the same thing at the hand of our military. I recognize that war might be seen as necessary under some circumstances, but that does not mean that I will support it. Instead, I’ll support the humans involved with and affected by it. Because life matters more than any political objective.
Link to George Banda’s oral history
On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was murdered, though perhaps murder is too light a word to describe his fate. The fourteen-year-old black boy from Chicago was found dumped in a Tallahatchie River is Mississippi after being kidnapped, brutally beaten, shot in the head, tied to a large metal fan with barbed wire, and thrown in the water. His killers’ jury deliberation lasted less than an hour; the all-white jury unanimously declared them innocent, arguing that the body could not be identified. It was certainly disfigured: Emmett’s corpse was not discovered until nearly a month after his slaying. His mother, who reluctantly let him travel to stay with his relatives in the Mississippi, gave Emmett an open-casket funeral. The funeral was attended by nearly a hundred thousand people in Chicago, arguably “one of the largest civil rights demonstrations of all time” ( http://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515#impact-on-civil-rights).
Having recently turned seventeen, the anniversary of Emmett’s death speaks to me with even more power. Considering how I have outlived so many people, and how u have done nothing to deserve that, helps me understand the cruelty of their fates. For instance, the death of Isabel, my eight-year-old neighbor who lost her battle with inoperable brain cancer, has forced me to reexamine many aspects of my life. She never got to take part in so many things I take for granted. She never got her driver’s license; she never had her first kiss; she never even finished learning long division. I frequently baby sat her and her younger sister before and occasionally after her diagnosis, but I never quite grasped the magnitude of the situation. Here I was, perfectly healthy, and I’m struggling to cope with someone else’s struggle. Simply put, I was clueless. I had no grasp of the fleeting nature of life, or the randomness that strikes those around us. So when I first learned about Emmett Till’s murder, I, to a small degree, already understood it. A young boy — who could have been me, or one of my friends, or a family member — was slayed. For no good reason. His family forever mourned his senseless death. And there was nothing they could have done to protect him.