Monday, February 19, 2007

It's Just the Cerebellum

One time, some years ago, I was a freshman in college, new to The City, and I remember taking a bus from Morningside Heights to the Bronx to watch a football game. Not knowing many people, and not feeling up to grand social efforts, I sat next to a bright and serious boy from my home town. The excitement of discovering New York had inclined my young mind towards grandiosity, and at some point on the ride I gestured out the window towards the shining lights to the west and remarked to the boy "that's why I came to New York." Being not too sure what I meant, the boy looked quizzically at me and said "to be near Jersey?"

That's a story that, for some reason, I often come back to- maybe because so many people priced out of Manhattan real estate do in fact move to Jersey. But recently I have developed another theory.

Last week I took a plane ride from New York to Denver and on the plane I suffered three little bottles of the worst white wine I ever tasted. When I asked for a fourth the elderly stewardess mercifully cut me off and in so doing afforded me the chance to reflect without the chore of forcing a miserable Chardonnay over my gums. I took my temples between my thumb and index finger and quietly cursed my misfortune, but slowly came to this: I exist in these six inches between my temples. That is- in this small, graspable space, easily spanned by a single hand, rests the seat of my consciousness, in essence, me. That is a metaphysically blasphemous thought, the kind that might have appealed to my youthful college intellect and one I have since forbidden myself to indulge. But at thirty-five thousand feet, it's the kind of thought that can captivate and enchant an inebriated and increasingly romantic mind. At that height, when distance seems a salient feature of the world, it felt vastly important that when I put a hand to my forehead, I come daringly close to touching the exact place where consciousness resides- to bridging the distance between mind and body and encountering the mystery of existence. What do you think about in the window seat?

Luckily, the impulse to that confused and sordid thought passed and I remembered that uncovering the mystery of self is no more a matter of bridging distance than is discovering the the Great Meaning of New York City. Nor for that matter, discovering the meaning or value of anything. On no peg does meaning hang its hat. If I should finally arrive at the fragile and holy ground where consciousness springs forth, I'm sure some bright and serious boy would catch my meaningful glance and say "what's the big deal? It's just the Cerebellum."

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