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The Year the Saint Broke the Wheel


It was a year like any other and a year like no other.

Just like last year: I was still without a full-time job; I still labored in my seventh solitude; went through the standard line-up of vacations from the start of the year till its end; burned my money on books and beer; went out with the same people; again got fat at midyear thereon; revived old dreams and saw them once again crash into pieces before my eyes; loved, lost, loved, lost; despaired; rebirth; death.

Eternal recurrence of the same--but with a difference. This time around, I knew everything was still going to recur or I did hope everything to repeat itself; and when you have developed that sense of how the same things come and go albeit in different guises, you no more find the march of time boring and vain than you welcome it like an expected guest.

Some might say that such an "outlook" spells a lack of hope for better things, a lack of faith, or in a word, pessimism. To be sure, that I know and wish that the same things happen again initially and for the most part mean that I am not open to any new possibilities--and since possibilities are always positive, being closed to them positively means being a pessimist. "There is nothing new under the sun," cried the Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. And he without doubt was no optimist. "All (is) vanity": this means nothing matters because nothing is new because everything is the same--everything is vain. Thus, in my wanting and expecting everything to recur, I am therefore wanting what has been exposed as vain to come back to me. (Like a video game which had been finished but playing it again makes you feel smarter or like sitting-in a class you already aced last semester in order to appear very smart to its first-time takers.)

At bottom, those who expect eternal recurrence end up not learning, creating and finding any thing other than what was already known, what was already done, or what was expected. And those who fear change and anything out of the ordinary will inevitably only repeat everything eternally. Hence, the myth of eternal recurrence must be thought essentially not as an essential determination of the being of things but only as a result of the decisions and actions of men who are afraid of anything new and unfamiliar. That things recur: they recur because I will them to recur.

Or again: eternal recurrence of the same is the same as Lady Fortune's wheel of fate. Behold, the beautiful Lady turns a wheel on which a king and a pauper are tied. In her deft measure, the king rises to the top of the wheel to receive the rays of a glorious sun--while the pauper, a poor desolate man, is caught crushed between the unforgiving wheel and dirty ground. But Fortuna keeps on turning the wheel and the year (Vortumna: "she who revolves the year"): now see the pauper above and the king below. All in the same rhythm and without conscience, the wheel keeps turning. She does not listen to neither the king nor the pauper--Fortune was born deaf to the sighs and joys of men. "Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel?" asked Boethius, "Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune."

Finally, eternal recurrence of the same: like Sisyphus in hell.

I digressed. I wanted to tell you how there is great pleasure to be gained in wishing that things repeat themselves and how there is wisdom in such knowledge.

There is pleasure in eternal recurrence not only because nothing new can hurt you anew but because the same things can be made new, that is to say, they can be transformed into something beautiful. And there is wisdom in such a knowledge that things repeat themselves because one then gains a peek into the nature of things and the essence of man. Pleasure in the wisdom of how things are: the highest pleasure known to man.

Because if everything repeats itself--if I know that today I am pauper and tomorrow king--then I can invert the wheel without forcing it to stop. When I am pauper, I can act and think like a king who must learn how to be pauper in order to be a better king; and when I am king, I can be as humble as a pauper that still aspires to be king in order to no longer be pauper. Simply said, if I know that I can only be either king or pauper--as happiness and despair are the only sons of the same earth--I can then be both at all times whether I am above the wheel or below it. If I remain humble as a pauper and majestic as a king, then I will always both be a humble king and a majestic pauper. By being both king and pauper I then become indifferent to the wheel or the year's turning: let Fortune do as she wishes, she no longer can hurt me.

It is true that there is nothing new under the sun in the same way that all that can be said has already been said. The world knows the first truth while the gods know the second. But I do not know these truths yet: I have not seen all of the world and I have not yet said what I want to say. To be sure, I will see a lot of things which are repetitions of the things I saw before or elsewhere; but because I know that I do not have time to see everything, the mortal being that I am, I then see each thing at different times. In other words, the sunrise tomorrow will be the only sunrise I will see tomorrow and tomorrow's sun will forever be lost the day after tomorrow. The same sunrise but a different time: thus there will always be something new as there will always be a new sun.

Only immortal gods truly know that nothing is new under the sun. And only they, too, have said all that could be said, heard all that could be heard, and lived all the lives that could be lived.

Eternal recurrence of the same. It was by knowing--and finally accepting--this truth that I was able to renew myself in the past year: I found my way back to an old love; I was able to retrieve myself; I rekindled old friendships; I found new paths yet trodden; I wrote like I have never written before; and I rediscovered in philosophy promises of new beginnings and hope.

Everyone got it upside-down again and forgot that the wheel was a wheel; they also did not recognize that the king was the pauper and the pauper was the king. Because, you see, the more things remain the more they change.



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