What better way to share knowledge than through the written word. Since we picked up the first quill, we have over the ages scribed masterpieces from ancient texts, through Shakespeare and the Classics and on to modern theories of Life, the Universe and Everything via the internet.
Whilst it is just to read to expand the mind and become more knowledgeable, just reading is simply a data transfer between paper/screen and the hippocampus. Life is not simply about reading, understanding and sharing the words of others, life is about taking in knowledge to better experience. Quoting Freud or Nietzsche whilst in dialogue with friends and colleagues only shows that you have retained the knowledge once shared by great thinkers and writers, living and experiencing theories is however something very different.
I have not read a great many books cover-to-cover in my life, I have a tendency to read about fifty to sixty pages of a book, ponder over its content and existential relevance and put it down again perhaps for months, even years, taking in such nuggets and using that knowledge to enhance my experience on Planet Earth.
I was fortunate enough today (for now as this is my last project with my current employer) to be sat in a Business Class seat on-route to Cape Town where I will spend the next six weeks working (and being a culture vulture at weekends). I’m not the greatest of flyers so struggle a little on long haul flights so try to find things to do to keep me occupied for eleven hours fifteen in this case, as sleep as rarely an option. Armed with three books (A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig and The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley), a fully loaded iTunes/Spotify and the in-flight entertainment system, I felt that I had enough to keep the turbulence palm sweats at bay.
Apropos the in-flight entertainment system, I guess like most others I headed straight on to the documentary section and quickly settled on my selections for the flight. The documentary picks where quite easy; Cosmos narrated Neil De Grasse Tyson, Through the Wormhole narrated by Morgan Freeman (materialism vs mysticism checklist complete) and Robin Williams Remembered (a look-back at the life and works of one the modern-day greats).
I recall the days after he had died as not one of my finest moments. News had reached the UK that he had taken his own life which was a tragic event but what I could not understand at the time was why people where literally crying in the streets, and everybody seemed to share their own grief on social media. My point (wrong as it transpired) was that just because someone a famous person takes their own life, doesn’t make it any more or less tragic than someone who is not, a life is a life. There is some truth in that I guess but this stance got me into some sticky conversations until I rightly rescinded my comments once the views of others had been taken in.
The in-flight fifty-five minute documentary showed a true genius at work, from small beginnings to an Oscar winning performance, from a loner to a global megastar and back again, leaving gaping voids in the people that knew and worked with him.
After I had watch the three documentaries, I cycled through the three-hundred plus films on offer, hopefully taking the opportunity to watch an ontological/existential flick as I rarely get chance at home. Sadly there was nothing there.
Coincidentally though, Good Will Hunting starring Mr Williams was there. It’s a film I watched a long time ago and I recalled it was quite good so on it went. Having read a little Freud recently, I remembered that Williams played a shrink so quite a relevant film (a visual experience to go with the transfer of knowledge). Needless to say and in my opinion (at last!) the film is an absolute classic, with Williams a genius and humbling watch. His performance rightly won him the Oscar, arguably one of the best pieces of acting I’ve ever seen on film.
There is a scene in the film where doctor (Robin Williams) and patient (Matt Damon) are sitting on a park bench. Here on display, in Technicolor at 37,000ft is a monologue to end all monologues, which describes in majestic detail that life is about practice and not about theory. I just have to share this verbatim as no analysis or opinion is required (SPOILER ALERT!):
“I thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. I stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me. I fell into a deep peaceful sleep and I haven’t thought about you since. You know what occurred to me, you’re just a kid and you don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about. You’ve never been out of Boston.
If I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny about every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him; life’s work, political aspirations, him and the Pope, sexual orientation the whole works, but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel? You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at the beautiful ceiling, I’ve seen that.
If I ask you about women, you could give me a salver of all your personal favourites, you may have even been laid a few times, but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy.
If I ask you about war, you will probably throw Shakespeare at me right: “Once more into the breach dear friends”, but you’ve never been near one. You’ve never had your best friends head in your lap and watch him gasp his last breath looking at you for help,
If I ask you about love, you’d quote me a sonnet, but you’ve never looked at a woman and felt totally vulnerable knowing someone who could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an Angel on earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell and you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her Angel to have that love for her that will be there forever through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping up in a hospital room for two months holding her hand because the doctors could see that in your eyes the term “visiting hours” don’t apply to you.
You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much.
I look at you I don’t see an intelligent confident man, I see a cocky, scared shitless kid, but you’re a genius Will no one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you but you presumed to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine and ripped my fucking life apart. You’re an orphan right. Do you think I’d know the first thing about how hard you’re life has been, how you feel, who you are because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you?
Personally I don’t give a shit about all that because you know what, because I can’t learn anything from you that I can’t read from some fucking book, unless you want to talk about you, and who are you – then I’m fascinated. I’m in. But you don’t want do that do you sport. You’re terrified on what you might say”.
Calmly and expertly delivered, Williams is sharing a part of himself with the viewer, both fragile and moving.
In the final scene, Damon opens up and sobs after Williams (who himself reveals his historic abuse story) repeats time and time again “It’s not your fault; it’s not your fault”. I guess I was kind of glad all of the blinds were down on the airplanes windows and most of the folks were asleep as the tears were rolling down my face like the Victoria Falls I was flying over at the time.
We would do well to remember what William’s said on that bench, life is about experience and not knowledge. If we have had bad experiences thrust upon us, then we can and must try to lose that historical knowledge and live life in the present moment…