You had just gone into the den to grab your coffee mug, which you’d left there after breakfast; but when you saw the dingy paperback, your presence of mind failed you, and you paused. It somehow recalled the scratchy, stuffy days of your elementary education, and it rather sickened you. You looked out the window: it was raining. I have to get out of here, you thought. You might have stood there all morning, but in the rapidly thickening clouds of your mind, something told you to back out of the room and take a breath. And immediately the skies parted, you laughed at yourself, and you were home again, with twenty years safely between you and the starched collars of your youth.
This is what a drowning man must feel like when he’s gone down, down, and felt the water entering his lungs and the lights going out, and then been hauled up and given his life back by some brave stranger. You’re a little more grateful for having gone through it. Maybe when he’s got over it, the nearly-drowned man will go back every now and again, and have a look at the lake that nearly was his grave, and take fresh joy in the fact that it didn’t get him after all. That’s fine up to a point; but it isn’t healthy to do it too often.
But there are differences between you and the drowning man. You had friends at the bottom of your lake, people you knew and joked with and who had some good points about them. You can never go back and see them; for one thing your soul revolts at revisiting that episode in any way, shape or form; and for another, they are gone. It’s too bad they didn’t all turn out like you. They would have been happier.
And maybe in another five or ten years, you will go back into that den, perhaps to pack its contents into boxes for a move, and you will come across more dingy paperbacks and yellowed notebooks. Some of them are missing; you loaned them away, and truth be told you’re actually glad they were never returned. You will never read them; and someday the sight and smell of them may throw you into a gray reverie from which you never emerge. Listen! If you have any sense, you will burn them in the firepit and then take a short walk with your wife. Better a small loss of sentiment than the straightjacket.
“The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things which surpass it.”
—Pascal, Pensees, 1670