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The Heat Lightning of a New Beginning

Only human beings have the ability to begin. All other beings persist: they go through the motions of existence by weathering it out, from its inception to its decay and perish. There can be nothing new under the sun for these beings. All is routine, which, absurdly, is not recognized as routine; it may be said that their existence is one endless sleepless night without the hope of a new day--the promise of a new beginning. This is so because non-sentient beings do not have awareness of themselves and of time.

We, in contrast, have the ability to reflect on ourselves. Such reflexivity or self-consciousness enables us to see ourselves in a way that we see an image of ourselves in the mirror or picture ourselves as in a dream or hope. This space, opened up not only by reason but more so by the imagination, allows us to see ourselves otherwise than what we already are. That I see myself now as a student with no idea of what I am doing in my present course, and if I am honest, allows me to imagine doing something different, studying what really interests me, being elsewhere. The same may happen in a relationship. When routine and boredom find its way into the crevices of a relationship, these moments, sometimes without our permission, allow us to wonder and ask the dangerous perhaps and: am I happy with him? would I be happy with another? would I be happier alone? These questions are usually left unaddressed because we know very well that any attempt to answer them, to want to know, can lead to a precipitous from which we may never recover. Camus correctly said that beginning to think is beginning to be undermined. In the same vein, to begin to think is the beginning of beginning.

And we are afraid of beginnings. Beginning entails the end of something. And whether what was ended ended in accomplishment or in tragic failure matters not as much as the dread that an end begins: now I do not know what to do. Failing, too, had its rewards: it kept me trying, kept me busy, or ultimately, kept me melancholy or filled with rage. But now, in front of the danger of having to begin again, the dread of the unknown fills me and prevents me from making the first (usually erroneous) step. This is what Kierkegaard called the anxiety of possibility. Now that all is possible and up to me, now that I can do anything without limitations (there are no limitations in beginnings), I can only "make a mess" of this beginning by making a mistake--a mistake I can only blame myself for. Hence possibilities and beginnings scare us. When we are limited by something other, we pretend to protest, but at least we think something else is responsible for our failures, making it easy to hide our fear of freedom. And there will always be comfort in the routine, however boring it may be at times, because we do not need to begin, and that is the gift that inertia gives.

Beginnings, like new loves, may burn. This was what Heidegger meant when he described such an experience as "the heat lightning of a new beginning." Lightning brightens the earth and sky and for a moment you see everything: this is enlightenment: now you can see again and now you can begin again. But lightning also kills--so we look for cover and run from it.


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