I can't know what was in David Foster Wallace's mind when he took his own life Friday. He was a little less than two years younger than me, and a far better writer and thinker than I'll ever hope to be. The news that someone in my age cohort couldn't take it anymore -- whatever "take it" means in this context -- is saddening and frightening both.
This political season has been so far even more frustrating, depressing and shocking than the 2004 fiasco, and obsessively reading political blogs for weeks on end, as I have, has whipped even my even-keeled mind into a case of the Howling Fantods. The idea that this country might be poised once again to swallow a pile of bullshit so dense that it bends gravity, makes me want to climb a clock-tower and just start taking people out.
I won't, though. Wallace was my age, but if I'd been born a few years later and been blessed with the same educational opportunities, I might have been privileged to hear Wallace give the commencement address at my alma mater.
That way sanity lies.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.