The quest for completion
by Jonathan Rosenblum
December 31, 1999
When I was a boy, I often thought about how old I and those closest to me would be in the year 2,000. That milestone lay in the far-distant future, and thoughts about it were inevitably connected to wondering about what life held in store and what kind of man I would grow up to be.
The year 2,000 is now arriving, and unless a Y2K catastrophe ensues, it will pass unnoted in the Rosenblum household. The millennium's only significance for me is as a means of starting one of those 'thought' pieces called for when one arrives home at 2 a.m., after two weeks abroad blissfully out of touch with the late-breaking news and the deadline looms only hours away.
That changing perspective on the millennium is but one example of how our sense of time differs with age. Just recently, I was shocked to realize that I have been married longer than the time elapsed from cradle to college. Yet the latter seemed to take an eternity while the former has whizzed by.
Were it not for some tangible reminders in the mirror and around the dinner table, I could swear that I was married just yesterday.
Youth is a period of endless waiting. Everything is in the future. 'The charm and insolence of youth,' Ortega y Gasset observed, 'is that it is everything in potentiality and nothing in actuality.' Youth hoards the future.
I still remember the summer night when I was 11 that it first struck me that I would die. I rushed from my room in tears hoping that my parents would reassure me it wasn't true. For the next year, I obsessively calculated, on a daily basis, what percentage of my life I had lived (according to actuarial tables current then). The thought that the future - or at least my future - was not infinite was unbearably painful.
Today I almost never think about death, though it looms far closer on the horizon. The future has shrunk, but there is also a past and a present.
The future that so occupied me as a boy centered primarily around who I would marry. Has my future wife been born yet? What is she doing at this moment? How will I find her? What will our children be like?
These were the questions that filled my mind.
I DOUBT such questions occupy the young today. They do not grow up on the Donna Reed and Dick Van Dyke shows, with their cozy nuclear families. TV humor today runs more to sexual repartee and unsubtle double entendres. Love between couples is not assumed nor is it the issue.
Those raised on such fare come to expect at a young age that they will have many 'relationships.' Marriage, if it comes at all, will likely be something slipped into after a long period of cohabitation, not the climax to which one's whole life has been pointing.
The young are taught while still in elementary school the mechanics of sex. No need for them to puzzle out what makes their father their father. Early on, they become proficient in the use of their bodies as instruments of pleasure. But that knowledge, acquired at the onset of puberty, makes it much harder to learn later of sexual relations as expressions of love.
As Allan Bloom observed of today's college students, 'They do not experience love - [they are] too familiar with sex to confuse it with love, too preoccupied with their own fates to be victimized by love's mad self-forgetting...'
The words, 'I love you,' seldom cross their lips, and certainly not, 'I'll always love you.' For love implies commitment, and they eschew all commitment that might limit their futures. Well into their twenties, and even thirties, they remain y Gasset's perpetual adolescents, posed before many doors, unwilling to go through any for fear of cutting off some other potential path.
But while they hoard the future, the future of today's young lacks the sense of heightened anticipation that once characterized youth. They have come to resemble young animals who are everything they ever will be at puberty. Theirs is a dessicated eros that can be satisfied by mere sex, just like any animal.
Bloom found his most interesting students, the ones most capable of being excited by ideas, to be the most innocent - those 'who think there is much to look forward to and much they must yet grow up to, fresh and naive, excited by the mysteries to which they have not yet been fully initiated.'
Those who still dream of love, of that magical other, experience themselves as not yet complete. And that sense of their own incompletion opens them to the thirst for knowledge in a way that those whose future arrived prematurely never will. The quest for love and for knowledge are but two aspects of the search for completion.
My children do not share their dreams with me any more than I shared mine with my parents. But I would guess that despite the vast differences between their upbringing and mine their thoughts of the future resemble those of my boyhood much more than they resemble those of their contemporaries.
When they think about the future, it is in terms of life shared with a partner who gives meaning to every aspect of life and with whom they will build a home and family.
At least I hope that is what they have seen at home and aspire to for themselves.
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics
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