Archive for September, 2012

Memory

– Topher Endress

At first glance, it would seem nothing is as intimate as one’s memory.  Private scenes playing in your head, often so real you can nearly taste them, hear them, feel them, with words not doing the feelings and pictures justice.  How could anyone else have the same memories that you do?  Despite this, I contend that memories are not the beacon of individuality that one might expect.

Instead, memory is a social institution. We have collective memories – sharing major experiences like 9/11 in our lifetimes, Pearl Harbor in our grandparents’, the release of the ipod, landing on the moon, the Challenger disaster, Hummel’s block against Wisky my freshman year (that was a world event in my eyes), etc. Moving away from global or national perspectives, we still have regionalist memories like earthquakes, winning sports teams (’07 Colts, baby!) and other highly-talked about events.  Group dynamics need historical components, or shared memories, to connect the current with the past and to allow the future to be connected as well.  We do not live in a bubble.  We are inherently effected by what goes one around us, and what has gone on before us.  As such, we need to know what those who have come before have done and how it changed them.  One of my most clear memories of Chartering weekend was listing to Dave Wozniak shares stories of sharing life with his brothers post-college, mostly because I know that those experiences are shaping our chapter today.  It is important to hear both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ from older men if we are to learn about where we are right now.

Of course, if we are to learn important lessons from those who have come before us, by logical extension we should share our own stories of who we were and who we are, individually and communally. We should be telling stories of why we joined Phi Tau and what it gave us.  Otherwise, the past stops impacting the present and cannot shape the future.  The new guys, younger guys, older guys and alumni all deserve to have a space in this storie-sharing cycle.  If we want Lambda to flourish, it will come from being able to transmit the knowledge of the past onto the present and applying it to the future.

What kind of stories can you share with the men around you?  What do those stories tell them about who you are and what you believe in?  What do your stories tell others about your experience in Phi Tau, and what do they make them think about the organization?

Poignant

– Topher Endress

I normally don’t read short stories, but I found myself reading some Jack London today at work.  That led to a general search around the internet, and I came away with this super short story.  I don’t really know how I feel about it, other than I think it’s both really good and really depressing.  I just wanted to share it with someone, and I feel like maybe there are some brothers who wind up enjoying this:

“The old man sighed. The tall stack of the factory was churning out acrid, black smoke, in vast quantity, blotting out the sky and casting a twinge of oppressed grey into the clouds. Not much longer, and he would be like one of those clouds, too painted by to coal-ash to remember what a clean whiteness looked like. For 40 years he had been working; he was fifty-three and very nearly dead. His body was wearing thin, the sickly thin of sinewy muscles failing to remember to lift themselves up. His mind wandered. Coughing, he wondered if it was that his mind was too old to work, or if he simply lost interest in thinking. His son was by his bed, unsure of what to say. The old man shook his head, trying to recall what name he had given the boy. It didn’t matter. Not anymore. Nothing really mattered, save for the clouds. From his window, all he could see were the grey skies and the stack. Hidden from view was the muddy brown and white ground, watered by snow and ice but with no hope of growing. The son sighed back.

Laughing, he playfully peeled her hands off of his eyes. She wanted him to be surprised by the lavish picnic she had prepared, but he anticipated just such a thing from her. Her curly blonde head bobbed, feigning anger. They laughed until their lips met, her bright red lipstick smudging slightly across his face. The cherry tarts would be only half as sweet. He paused not for reflection, but just to stare into her eyes and absorb the fun. Still in the moment, they began to eat.

He shivered. If only, he thought. If only what? he wondered. The son tapped his foot impatiently. No pity filled his heart. The old man couldn’t remember why the young man was there. Didn’t he have a son? Nevermind, sons are only as good as their fathers, and what did he ever do to teach? Already sick by the boy’s 10th birthday, not of the body but of the soul, physically a man but inside the hollow of a spent stack. He would be fortunate to spew acrid smoke once more. He chose to die. He frankly did not care much for living and hadn’t for some time. The son suffered without knowing. Having never grown up with a living father meant he had to grow up instantly, all at once, from earliest memory to now, living as if he were seventy and wearied by life, caring not for ideals but for rest. Where was the father to teach that life was grand or nice? No father like that was ever known to either man. Lying did not come hard to the old man, though it never suited him.

She gaily sand along to the radio. He grimaced. Her voice lost power, words coming softer and less believable. She involuntarily shuddered. He hadn’t been promoted in years. She was as bright as ever, blonde hair bouncing with each bump in the road, curls flying like honey bees in a hive, rosy cheeks slightly draining when the hills dipped too fast. He silently cursed the poor construction of the streets. She could not touch him anymore. He was a new man, entirely stuck in a single moment while the world continued on. She stopped singing as a lump rose in her throat. This stranger in the car was frightening and the smell of death too much to conceal with happy melodies.

The son looked at his watch. He wanted to say something but thought better of it. Besides, who would care, he thought. The old man looked dead.

There were no fights. No stormed beaches, no shattered plates, no anger. He was a slow fade. It was if he reached his full life but God didn’t see it to let him die off. He was only meant to be there for a short while, not for the waning years. She found nothing to hate in him until she died and found he had died years before her. The factory kept spewing its black smoke. The clouds hadn’t been white in years. The birth of their son brought nothing.

The son did not care for the old man. He heard rumors of the past, of a time when the old man was young and alive, when he was able to work towards something, when life held a promise to grab. Lies, thought the son. The old man looked at the stack, wondering what it would be like to be smoke. He would have asked to be cremated, but he did not speak. He moved for no one. His life was over long ago. The son never lived. The funeral was short.”

The themes of callousness and the allegory of losing momentum equating to death really stuck out to me.  The sentence in the last paragraph where the son can’t fathom his father as ever really being alive frankly scared me.