I’m the switch on the railroad tracks. I divert the trains of thought.
“The average person has 12,000 thoughts a day. In psychology today…” My friend was in a contemplative mood, ready to plunge into some neuro-philosophical depth of the inner psyche. I had to interpose.
“How do they count how many thoughts you have anyways?” I mused. Into our serious conversation popped the image of this eager man, strapped onto a complicatedly wired cap. The light bulb would flash. He would inform with impish alacrity, “I am having a thought right…now. Oh, and another, and I’m having a thought about having a thought!”
Of course, there is a scientifically, not to mention, logically-sound answer to my question. But I deliberately chose to jump to the most ridiculous conclusion. And I felt somewhat ashamed, not just because of this innocent digression. But, digressions seem to have become a central theme in my life. Some people, the deep thinkers, can sit down and contemplate the meaning of existence itself. I would waste half my time staring into space, enacting for thirty minutes instead on how exactly I would dunk my madeleine into the tea in an affectedly Proustian way. Sidetracked, again.
I once read somewhere that one should aspire to two original thoughts that are worth something to the human race. So, I’m anxious, because I don’t seem to be filling my quota. I hope that, with maturation, I will cease to flounder in my shallow end of the pool, splashing up useless foam for my amusement at the expense of serious reflection for the world. I feel like the thought-counting guy, blurting out his simple mind in such a self-satisfied manner without contributing anything substantial. It’s not enough to just have a thought, or 12,000 thoughts; they need to address a striking issue. I feel like the six-year-old, self-absorbed in playing princess, indifferent to the practical reality at hand, more amused by her own little world. Maybe, I’ve never cared too much for the inner psyche, the meaning of life, or the human race.
But, I believe in my digressive triviality.
I do have a concern for the facts of reality. Yet, I rejoice in the freedom of my imagination; it helps me to believe in the lighter side of the world. And I prize the trivial observations, the petty episodes that give me a sense of humor. In the pressure cooker of a society facing imminent destruction, mass extinction, global depression, I need to be able to laugh, once in a while. I can switch to these tiny tracks to navigate, with a guilty optimism, the hard landscapes of calamity and morality.
We all should learn to treat the serious things more trivially. I’m not trying to escape from the cruel world. But if I start sinking into the chasms of the philosophical unknown, or into all the doomsday gloom, I’d like to have something to keep me afloat.
And we should take the trivial things more seriously.
After all, for Proust, it started with a madeleine.