Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction:
I haven’t thought about you that much lately. It’s scaring me.
The thing is: I’ve been distracted, and that’s something that an Impossible Soul tells me not to do.
Stacks of essays are in. I’m grading them, or, more accurately, I’m assessing them by the level of passion they do or do not contain. The levels are low. The student-writers are not nihilists (sadly, they wouldn’t even know to recognize the word even if it did describe them), because it’s not that they believe in nothing, it’s that there is nothing inside their belief. They don’t even know there are things to believe in or stand against. They are a hollowed core painted with a cultural veneer, using references to Glee and the NFL like they carry more weight than the American dollar (in fact, they do).
What does this have to do with you?
I don’t know. But I’ve been frightened by how little I’ve cared about parsing belief. I’m not angry anymore. I’ll argue that I was never angry, but that I was in fact consumed by tension, and that tends to sound vitriolic. I miss the perceived vitriol. I look back over these letters with the pain of a lost self–a self that isn’t even a month old, but yet, there it is, strapped to the respirator of memory, the gauzy breaths pumping as if at one time I knew what I was doing, and that my lungs would heave even when I was dumb enough to think I was willing the oxygen in and out.
For so long I’ve connected passion with belief, and that how much I believed in something directly corresponded to how much effort I put into breathing. But, these days, I sigh more than I breathe, and I worry more than I sleep. I am anxious about the fact that I’m aware my anxiety leads to guilt. I can’t stop it, but it’s stopping me.
The philosopher Alain de Boton defines a cynic as someone whose ideals are so hopeful they fall easily out of reach of the general imagination.
You did it once, so, please: make me your cynic again.