January 18, 2018

"The water rushes calmly along as if everything was all right in the world."

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I sit and watch the river. The water rushes calmly along as if everything was all right in the world. I find it almost unbearable that so close to all the surrounding fighting and commotion there could be such a peaceful spot, sitting under the shade of a tree watching the patient flow of the river. But I don’t know why I say unbearable, it was simply the first word that came to mind. Staring at the water I start to calm down a little, which makes me more aware of how much stress I’ve been holding in my body. I’ve never been especially interested in nature. But there is this river in front of me, and it is the first thing I’ve looked at for any length of time in many days where I don’t also feel someone might immediately bomb it. Who would possibly bomb a small river? I start to think about the blood I just washed out of my clothes, about the man who rushed out into the street to pull me from the crossfire. He really didn’t need to do that. He probably saved my life, definitely at the risk of his own, and asked nothing in return. I wonder what he was thinking as he did so. (He was probably thinking how stupid I was to just be standing there in the line of fire. Or maybe that I was paralyzed by shock and clearly needed assistance.) He knows nothing about me and I know nothing about him. But, then again, he’s living in war, must risk his life all the time, purposefully or otherwise. You see someone in danger and simply rush forward to save their life. You don’t think. It’s not a philosophical moment. You have a split second to act and so you act. And in that way it of course is, also, a philosophical moment. I think again, and over again, about that split second moment in which he saved me and his action seems almost like the opposite of how I’ve lived my entire life. Over and over again I stopped to think, to drift, to daydream, to consider, while moment after moment passed me by. I suppose one might say I was daydreaming when he saved my life. Or not exactly daydreaming but paralyzed, which often seems to me to be more or less the same thing. And walking is another form of daydreaming. When I think this way, despite having come here, I can’t help but feel that I still don’t know what I’m talking about. I hope he’s still alive. (But of course he’s still alive, because in this book no one dies.) I feel that already the luck I’ve had is highly improbable. Twice I was dead but each time not quite. Twice I was dead.

Staring at the river, I start to pay more attention to how I’m feeling. I of course don’t feel well at all, like I’ve been poisoned followed by a physical beating. My breathing is labored, most likely from all the dust and debris, but perhaps also from a sense of pure and sustained panic. I have traveled, come here. I am not having a transformative experience. The water flows past me and I watch, wondering so many things at once I can barely think straight. This is a quiet, contemplative moment – perhaps my last one for a while, or ever – and I feel I should use it to put my thoughts in order. All I do is think yet not always in my own best interests. Am I actually learning anything about war, what it feels like to be in the midst of it all. It feels fucking terrible but I must have known that already. I fear I’ve always felt that one travels so far only to learn what one already knew, which is why, in the past, I’ve traveled so rarely. Would I learn more if I spoke to people? Why am I not talking to anyone? Because I don’t want to bother them, they have enough problems without having to answer my naïve questions. Because there’s no one to introduce me and absolutely no reason they should trust me or my approach. Because I’m ashamed, ashamed that I’ve taken this trip in the first place, and don’t want them to find out the reasons I’ve come here. Because I believe, from their perspective, I am the enemy, even though for many other reasons they might not necessarily treat me like one. I sleep for a few hours, then repack my things and continue walking. My clothes are still ever-so-slightly damp but I put them back on anyway, hoping the sun will dry them as I walk. I don’t know why I’m not more afraid that someone or something will kill me in my sleep. In a way, before I came here, I must have believed my thinking was clear. But now I see that my thinking has only ever been confused. I’m completely confused about war (mainly about how to stop it) and about living and dying and desire. Before I came it was clear I had some desire to do so. But what exactly was that a desire for. I know the answer to this question now less than ever.

- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim



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