Perpetually Unfinished
Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Millennium Park & Chicago
Originally uploaded by brittgm.
I’ve been rather out of sorts lately. I’m not sure how to describe it. Disconnected, maybe. Scattered. My head’s been in the clouds a lot.

It’s spring already, windy and warm, with a disorienting daylight that lasts ‘til 7:30. A quarter of the year is gone and I don’t know where it went. My weekday evenings, especially, seem to disappear before I know it, one after another. When Alex started being away during the week, I came up with a list of priorities for all that new free time. Spend more time with nearby friends and e-mail faraway ones more often… cook more interesting food… learn to play the guitar. But somehow the clock always strikes midnight before I know it, and I go to bed thinking, “Tomorrow.”

I was thinking about that today, walking through downtown Chicago in the sunny evening, and suddenly my brain flipped the words around: “Those are hours of my life I will never get back. They are gone forever. Every hour I waste is one more I let slip out of my future and into my past.” For some reason, this struck me as a Very Significant Insight, although it’s really just another way of saying something I already knew.

I keep having that feeling lately, these moments that seem somehow significant and profound, even though they may be quite silly. For example, a week or two ago, I was taking the escalator up from the El tracks to the street. There were a bunch of people standing to the right letting the escalator carry them, and I was passing them on the left, climbing. Out of nowhere, I had the very clear thought, “This is a metaphor.” Weird, right? No indication from my brain as to what the metaphor itself could be, of course.

I’m not sure this really fits, but I had a dream the other night. I was sitting in a classroom full of my high school classmates, and a few seats ahead of me I spotted Gregg Bitondo, a boy who died the May we were all juniors. My heart caught in my throat-- I was very aware in the dream that he ought to be dead, and there he was, talking and laughing as if everything was normal. Somehow I was the first to notice, but soon others saw him and began to whisper to each other, their faces full of shock and confusion and the beginnings of a joy they were afraid to let themselves feel. The boy at the desk next to mine turned to me and said, “It’s Gregg,” with that same look on his face, and I nodded and said with a sudden certainty, “Yeah, this is a dream.” A look of recognition crossed his face, and he whispered to the person on his other side, and soon the word was spreading around the classroom, everyone realizing as they heard it that it was true, that they were dreaming.

The boy turned back to me. (He didn’t really have a fixed identity; he somehow fluidly shifted between being a number of different guys I went to high school with.) “If this is just a dream,” he said, watching Gregg, so smiling and alive, “we all have to make sure to remember it.” He looked at me with such intensity and emotion, full of pain and affection and an open vulnerability that none of the boys-he-was would have ever shared with me in our real teenage days. And I nodded, feeling I was making a solemn compact with him and everyone else in the room, that we would all keep this memory with us from this day forward.

Except, of course, it was my dream, and so when I awoke I realized there was no one to remember it but me. And so I ran through it in my groggy half-awake state, making sure to fix it in my memory, like I promised. So now I remember it, and I think I’ll remember it for a long time.
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Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing.
--Eric Hoffer

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