A New Leaf: On Turning 25

“Night — grand and wonderful. I am glad I am living. I rejoice as a strong man to win a race, and I am strong — is it egotism — is it assurance — or is it the silent call of the world spirit that makes me feel that I am royal and that beneath my sceptre a world of kings shall bow. The hot dark blood of a black forefather is beating at my heart, and I know that I am either a genius or a fool. O I wonder what I am — I wonder what the world is — I wonder if life is worth the Sturm. I do not know — perhaps I never shall know: But this I do know: be the Truth what it may I will seek it on the pure assumption that it is worth seeking — and Heaven nor Hell, God nor Devil shall turn me from my purpose till I die. I will in this second quarter century of my life, enter the dark forest of the unknown world for which I have so many years served my apprenticeship. […] Carpe Diem!” — W.E.B. Du Bois, age 25

Writing this now, after returning to graduate school, I find it difficult to find the words to encompass the experience I’m going through. Strange! But at the same time, expected; thwarted that I am from previous expectations of life, now seeing life emerge in its full array of colors, opportunities, as well as problems, even; problems of the mind/heart which nevertheless intrigue me to look deeper, and ask more questions. I feel this year will be a year of asking questions, most of all; a year of self-discovery, not merely because I am turning 25, or going to graduate school, but self-discovery because I am in a place and time where the act of self-interrogation and self-exploration are both encouraged and made possible by the environment I live in. Living in the United States (as opposed to fulfilling my wanderlust by making excuses to head to New York) has also been life-changing; and I must admit that the prospective epoch in which I once hoped I could live to see — one where my country could finally have its leader look like me — has brilliantly come to pass.

There is a new degree of solitude in my days, now; sometimes comforting, and sometimes not. But anyone who is not comfortable in their own space, outside the realm of social engagements and loud traffic, is not necessarily taking hold of life. As Pascal once said, “All [our] miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” I am learning to remember the necessity of quietude in order to both get back on the saddle of graduate studies, and teach myself that all that is pleasurable is not grandiose. Also, I don’t think it’s healthy to see grad school in terms of ego-worship (worshiping your own/making sure people worship you), as much it often feels that way. I think worshiping ego, fearing annihilation at the hands of others, is a tiring business. And the pursuit of knowledge is ultimately a labor of LOVE. I am trying to find that balance between hard work in the name of professionalization and a kind of total vision of love for my craft… and walk in this world with grace, always.

The most difficult thing about moving away from family and friends has been the lack of support networks as I take the plunge into graduate-level work. During the MA, I had my parents and aunt, who had all pursued graduate school, and my uncle Alex, who recieved his PhD in Mathematics in 2000. He was accepted into Princeton but declined because he didn’t want his parents to suffer his absence, choosing to go to the University of Toronto instead. In my heart I cannot imagine a more selfless act. I continue to try and understand his decision, which is at once humbling but also confusing, throwing me into a whole range of self-questioning about what I am doing and why.

My uncle passed away in 2009, and left me several of his philosophical writings. This has been the most meaningful gift anyone has ever given me. But not just a gift; a gesture of absolute love, as if he knew I would need them. I still continue to try and understand this gesture, too.

If we love those we see, we have an absolute duty to love those whom we see no more because they have passed. “The work of love in remembering one who is dead is a work of the most unselfish love,” wrote Kierkegaard in Works of Love. It is also a work of the most committed love. I think love (define it how you will) is a thing that seeks freedom but enacts itself in very specific duties and obligations; it is carried out with diligence and faith. The same goes for personal objectives, goals and dreams. Those who seek greatness as creative minds do not in fact seek creativity but ego. I have been thinking deeply about this as I embark on my studies, supported by the very works of love my uncle provided. Here is a short excerpt from one entry:

“If we insist on living within institutions, then we must create a barrier to protect ourselves. A sanctuary within which we may be ‘free’ within that confined area. The trouble is that this area is too confining and we are not free enough to feel love. […] The cure to all my ailments is to develop the ability to recognize when I am being motivated by my ego and to recognize when I am motivated by love.”

The writings he has left behind have become my main source of consolation, and in reading them I think I am for the first time getting in touch with the spiritualized horizon of everyday life. The tension between ego and love is really at the heart of so much in this world. This journal will serve as a platform for critical analysis but will also not be afraid to look at the world with softer eyes. In this newly-launched journal of mine is a project that “dares to know” what is happening in the social and political world of the lived realities and experiences of people everywhere, and not just those in the ivory tower. It is a project of a deepening sense of humility that will never preach anything in particular, but at times may sing praises, get excited about bookish things.

Having undergone my first week of being 25, an historic number that is both to be celebrated and to be feared, I am doing my best to choose celebration. I feel pretty good about what I have worked towards. Most importantly, I exceeded my goal of publishing a book before turning 25. I have always kept sight on ways to improve myself, ways to give back to my community, ways to share my love of writing with the younger generation.

But there is no such thing as perfection, only commitment. There are a myriad things I want to see happen this year: I want to finish a second book of poems and rescue my abandoned novel, I want to take more walks and attend church more often, learn a new language and become an excellent cook, as well as an excellent friend. I want to dedicate myself fully to the life of the mind and not be affected by those who cannot see the sublimity of such a life. I want to dedicate myself fully to the life of the heart and not hurt anybody along the way, or allow myself to get hurt. And while pursuing a life of mind/heart, remain firmly footed on this earth and share my scholarly work and resources with others.

Let me not attach myself to temporary delights, which is a hopeless endeavor, or concern myself too much with those who are judgmental without cause. Let me never become so lofty in my idea(l)s, so delusional in my goals or so egoistic in my pursuits that I end up losing my identity. Let me recognize that I am free to manifest my will into the above objectives in every moment, even in the darkest hour, which is never truly dark, but the moment that comes before the light.

The chapel bells are ringing down my street. Until next time.

A.

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One thought on “A New Leaf: On Turning 25

  1. Happy birthday! I’m curious about what university you are at, and I hope you find yourself at home in your new home soon!

    About this novel…. I can’t wait until you can share it with us!

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