A more or less philosophical story by Johannes Beilharz


    On the Train


A cold night, when it was freezing in the corridors, the windows carried ice flowers, and it felt so cozy in the compartment, even the dry stench of the steam heating was cozy on this train, not that I want to think now: I want to remember, that is so fictional, they let some person eat an egg for breakfast that makes him think very symbolically of his babyhood in his mother's womb, so to speak, not that I want to recall past, but somehow memories come unwanted, unassociated, psychoanalysis is 100% not right, and their interpretation of dreams is some infantile poking around along the shores of the swamp, but YOU come to my mind with the train, not that you were on the train, but the train was significant for us, it was so symbolic, if there is symbolism in life, which is, I think, very doubtful, the whole of it is too serious, there is one level, that's all, it doesn't stand for anything else, we have to leave parables to poets, there is nothing metaphysical but in some theoreticians' minds, and that is the really astonishing thing of all, this luxury of the brain, and that it always feels the impulse to question and transcend and turn into illusion the single-layered life we lead, when in fact there is nothing, no wall with a little hole to peek through if we're lucky, there's no sense, but it's all being observed and nothing happens without being observed, and the question to imagine the observer, it drives me crazy at times. To picture some fat guy sitting at a huge oak table eating potato dumplings in beef gravy, a big, checkered napkin tied around his steer neck, smacking his fat red lips with every bite, reading the Cosmo Times above his pots and plates, and still watching us who are crawling around like ants down there, and the really strange thing is he sees all the way around the round world, he looks at us in Africa, in Greenland, in Australia and Siberia without so much as blinking an eye, and it must be boring for him to see all these things happen that are no news to him at all because he planted everything, but I'm taking detours here, which I shouldn't, instead, I ought to stay on the train drilling through the North American winter, or maybe I should not stay on it because there is nothing I should or ought to, I merely will or will not, should is one of these human constructions, "I should walk over to the cafe and get some pie" is only interesting in so far as to know whether I went or did not go, which, in the end, has nothing to do with the should because whatever happens happens, and feelings about it may be determinant, but lastly we don't know in which direction, anyway, there's always only one way, nobody has ever taken, at an intersection, two at the same time, so that the possibility to take another one instead of the one one takes has never been proven, which means what? That I had no choice that time, nor ever had one in my life, nor will ever have one, nor will anybody ever have one, which for me means that I was sitting in that train, feeling cozy, a little agreeably numbed, my brain softly bedded on some warm clouds, being too lazy to stay in the middle of one thought, which one can never do anyway, thoughts just occurred to me much unlike now that I'm writing this, which is not fiction since I'm writing it down without constructing it although it may not be true at all, construction is so weird, anyhow. How do we construct, are we allowed to construct SO far? Certainly not, because we never know how far SO far is as compared to an eternally possible distance. Knowing I know nothing but I know because it's all I can know at this moment, it just makes me feel uneasy sometimes to think about what I'm supposed to know, which, of course, is a rather irrelevant question because everything is as it is supposed to be, and we actually live, as Leibniz said, in the best of all possible worlds, only that maybe the best should be dropped since we don't have any judgment as far as the goodness or badness of this world goes. Certainly we feel it would be bad if someone killed us overnight, but that is only because we are supposed to feel that way. Of course it's hard to take that it could not be somebody else being killed, but, as it is explained by itself, "it could not be somebody else" — it could not since it did not be. Now, as to revolutionaries, and YOU, at one time, claimed to be one, they never do anything but what they are supposed to do, time is ripe for them, and if, therefore, you formed an original revolutionary idea in your head, it was yours, o.k., but you could not have had any other ideas, n'est-ce pas? which reduces your merit to zilch, right? Which reduces any glory to zilch. Of course, the one distinctive feature of revolutionaries is that they need the illusion they can change things, and that things could be different from a status quo. But there is no such thing as a status quo, first of all, since nothing ever stays the same, time changes everything, allowing myself this platitude which is only too true, with people carrying it in their mouths all the time but never really realizing its truth. It makes me laugh to see those guys doing something they think is different, as if there could be something different. It's as ridiculous to watch them "take the world's fate into their manly hands" as it is to say that the world's fate back in 1962, or whenever that was, lay in J.F. Kennedy's hands, while in reality everything will only come as it is supposed to come, and it is this fact that prevents me from becoming a revolutionary, but by not being one I still am what I'm supposed to be. The will to improve things, like the standard of living, working conditions, the distribution of wealth, etc., is just a collective projection of the egotistical, narrow-minded, sentimental desires of the individual anyhow, which, besides carrying a paradox in itself, lacks any global significance. This is the way history works; and it's best to picture it as the dumpling eater, or, maybe, as a gigantic rolling pin, flattening everything as it rolls on undisturbably. But how does this relate to YOU? You became my lover, because it had to be, although I did not make any moves, and that is why I was sitting in that train pretty much unmoved, feeling warm and cozy, it meant nothing to me that — but I'm going too fast here, which, of course, is a trick to say since one never can be too fast or too slow, one is always as one is (we Germans call this a Binsenweisheit), without this being a status quo, which is funny, isn't it? We met here in Boulder, and, as I mentioned before, I did not do anything to get to know you, I liked you because, according to my constellation then, I had to like a revolutionary on vacation who you were at that moment, sitting there taking it easy for once, laid back from your normal daily portion of social hate and social criticism, your program switched from "comrades — brothers and sisters!" to simply "woman," your little blue eyes flashing around in search, your tiny chin beard a little bit horny like a billy goat's, your irregular big white biters ready to bite, I liked you all right since I liked you all right, for no other reason, without thinking much about it, I used to think much more about liking people and what could become of that, but now I know that always happens what will happen, so why worry about it? Worrying, by the way, is not at all futile, because it doesn't make sense to call something futile, it has to be proven yet that futility exists, which, to me, seems impossible. So you became my lover. And the glass of iced tea I drank in the cafe where you sat facing me was as little futile as your cup of Celestial Seasonings (to drink those herb teas was still a half revolutionary act back then), they were, maybe, irrelevant in the eyes of revolutionaries and the philosophers and the historians but that doesn't matter since they can't help judging them unimportant. You started a conversation, I could see you were full of eagerness to do something, as if one could decide to do something, and thus we found out we wanted to go to California on the same day, you told me later you arranged it so it became the same, and so we went together in your car which, later, had to become my car when you left for Europe, and which had to break down in Canada so I had to take the train in which I was sitting among some fifty other people, blowing holes into the ice on the window with my breath, resisting the snow flakes falling outside, and even though I knew I had to be without you, something in me tried to resist this notion. According to Tolstoy, to try to resist is all we can do.

Johannes Beilharz 2015. This story originally appeared in Accessories, a literary/arts magazine published by the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1980.

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