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Historicity

I am a sucker for beginnings.

Though my inclination for being a perpetual beginner may be symptomatic of my illness, I never in any way discount my desire of starting over as something merely psychologically determined. Even if it is due to a flash of inspiration or a sudden realization that pushes me to begin, the act of beginning still stems from a decision I make, which, once made, drives me into an abandon which carries with it such force and will that no longer are the results of the fluctuations of a whim or a passing fancy.

Nothing may be more difficult than to begin. What with the looming challenge yet to be begun or the blank slate yet to be marked, beginning beckons a person to take the first and most difficult step or write the first tentative line. It is that first step which may mark out the direction of the path as it is the first line which will lead to the rest of the page. As Plato says, "The beginning is the most important part of the work." It is not something done arbitrarily and more often than not it is a step which you cannot take back. The rest of the journey and the rest of the story would all depend on that beginning. This is why the wise man always begins with the end in mind.

But as I always tell my students, the reality of beginning is never as simple as making that first step or writing that first line. This is because we almost never begin at the start of the journey or at a clean page. We are always already thrown in media res or in the middle of things as we find ourselves inside a story which has already started with or without our consent. We never begin with a tabula rasa as something has already been written or said and we only find ourselves already in a conversation that started without us. That we never really begin but only begin again. To a certain extent, this is why there is already nothing new under the sun. This is what it means to be in time: that I carry with me my past even if I profess to begin a new present.

Thus I carry with me as I take a new step all the steps I have taken before--the right ones that led me home and the wrong ones which made me lost. And this I experienced first hand. I had tried to find my way back home after taking another road. As I came nearer to it, I realized that what was once very familiar suddenly grew strange to me. Being estranged from home does this to you and it is the distance which changes you. I made a step back then in order to go away and see it as a whole from a distance. It was only then that I realized that from a far this home was like any other home. The stranger sees this and settles nowhere. But now that I want to come back like a prodigal son I see that the gates are still closed. The journey has not ended and I wait by the gates. Tomorrow may see me walk away anew to start wandering on a new road to perhaps a new home. I take that step because I was denied entry. Or I may stay until the gates open and begin anew in that old home. Of course it will not be the same. Yet either way, I become the sojourner because of the places I have been to and the journeys I have made. The beginning of each journey comes at the heels of a previous one. Returning or leaving, beginning or ending, this is why we are all wanderers on the face of this earth.

As I begin a new page of my story, I realized that I cannot go forward without bringing with me my past. It would have been an easy beginning if that past were all rosy and perfect yet I cannot turn my back on it. This is the weight I carry with me, this is who I am already.

Like the angel of history which flies with its back to the future while staring into the past, I begin humbled by my past.



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