Monday, April 18, 2011

Quotations, photos and ponderings, all. at. once.

    "You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents — each man to see what the other looked like. 
     Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and you own hands in semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but the size of your small courage, nothing to wonder about but the beliefs, the faces and the hopes rooted in your mind — such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger."
  Beryl Markham, West with the Night.

I already posted a passage from West with the Night, but since that was specifically relevant to the airplane post, here's a little more about the book itself: Generally, West with the Night is a ruminative, verbose, sweeping memoir that covers three notably distinct parts of Markham's life. After writing herself into the narrative, she takes the reader through her childhood, hunting lion with African locals, to leaving home and training race-horses, and finally to her career as a freelance pilot. 

So much of the book draws its strength from descriptions of people and places that the silence felt in the above passage is as startling to the reader as it is to Markham. The change from lengthy, illustrative passages about the African landscape and the characters who occupy it to the breathless and fleeting few paragraphs articulating her personal experience of flight parallels her assertion about loneliness. Most everything we do in our day-to-day lives is engineered to keep us from noticing that we are really very alone in the world, thus we keep self-awareness to a minimum in the interest of maintaining sanity. Even when physically alone, humans go to great lengths to avoid confronting themselves, whether by immersion in external stimuli, abuse of a substance, or simply by locking away their thoughts in a mental prison and living in denial of themselves. 

In conclusion, but not really to conclude this ongoing train of thought, West with the Night was an inspiring memoir not just in terms of tangible accomplishments and admirable writing, but in the additions Markham's personal philosophy made to my own modus operandi. Someday, I hope to meet myself.

Photo is of the Potomac River near Theodore Roosevelt Island, April 15, 2011.

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