How lucky, I thought, were people who had known from earliest childhood what they wanted to do. All the children in my grammar school, who said they wanted to be doctors, had grown up to become doctors. This was also the case apparently with firemen, veterinarians, songwriters, and race car drivers.I had opted for a kind of pure experience, which, as Doo-Wah had pointed out, is not usually something you get paid for. I did not want to write a book about it. I did not want to write so much as an article. I wanted to be left alone with my experience and go on to the next thing, whatever that was.
The summit is believed to be the object of the climb. But its true object—the joy of living—is not in the peak itself, but in the adversities encountered on the way up. There are valleys, cliffs, streams, precipices, and slides, and as he walks these steep paths, the climber may think he cannot go any farther, or even that dying would be better than going on. But then he resumes fighting the difficulties directly in front of him, and when he is finally able to turn and look back at what he has overcome, he finds he has truly experienced the joy of living while on life's very road.
There is, of course, always the personal satisfaction of writing down one's experiences so they may be saved, caught and pinned under glass, hoarded against the winter of forgetfulness. Time has been cheated a little, at least in one's own life, and a personal, trivial immortality of an old self assured. And there is another personal satisfaction: that of the people who like to recount their adventures, the diary-keepers, the story-tellers, the letter-writers, a strange race of people who feel half cheated of an experience unless it is retold. It does not really exist until it is put into words. As though a little doubting or dull, they could not see it until it is repeated. For, paradoxically enough, the more unreal an experience becomes - translated from real action into unreal words, dead symbols for life itself - the more vivid it grows. Not only does it seem more vivid, but its essential core becomes clearer. One says excitedly to an audience, 'Do you see - I can't tell you how strange it was - we all of us felt...' although actually, at the time of incident, one was not conscious of such a feeling, and only became so in the retelling. It is as inexplicable as looking all afternoon at a gray stone of a beach, and not realizing, until one tries to put it on canvas, that is in reality bright blue.
Usually by this time in the summer, we were as worn in to one another as pebbles in a riverbed. For three months we’d had complete togetherness and not much outside stimuli. What few stories we had, we’d considered, analyzed, celebrated, cursed, and joked into sand.Tonight was different. I felt like we were each separate and full to our edges with our own stories, mostly unshared. In a way it scared me, having a summer of experiences and feelings that belonged to me alone. What happened in front of my friends felt real. What happened to me by myself felt partly dreamed, partly imagined, definitely shifted and warped by my own fears and wants. But who knows? Maybe there is more truth in how you feel than in what actually happens.
Sitting on the floor, I'd replay the past in my head. Funny, that's all I did, day after day after day for half a year, and I never tired of it. What I'd been through seemed so vast, with so many facets. Vast, but real, very real, which was why the experience persisted in towering before me, like a monument lit up at night. And the thing was, it was a monument to me.