The Clown

Jeffrey L. Bromberger, Suddenly Feeling Very Old

12 August 2021

Everybody stops when they hear of somebody they know passing on.  Not only is it human nature, it is every man’s destiny.

I lost an ex-co-worker almost a year ago.  I am reluctant to say “a friend” because even though we were work-close and cordial, our social circles never really crossed.  The honest truth is that I found out about his passing second hand.  For what it’s worth, I feel that the word Friend has been watered down due to systems like Facebook, where you can be “friends” with people you barely know, and who barely know you.  That’s a word for another day, and another series of articles.

In the way distant past, I remember a Far Side comic showing up in the newspaper.  It had a cow, sitting on a tour bus, rolling through the desert, head out the window, looking down at an old, dessicated skull from a steer (Longhorn, maybe).  No caption for that matter.  I can’t find it on-line now, but it’s in one of the big collections…  The point is this: it isn’t a funny cartoon.  Gary Larson explained (so maybe this was in tbe Very Big Black Book) that it was meant to show that everybody takes a longer look at an item that means something to them.  In this case, the empty bovine skull becomes a true memento mori for the cow.  For me, having a contemporary pass away brought a moment of pause.  We’ll never accidentally get the chance to bump into each other again and have another of our hour long discussions.  His death leaves my world empty, in a way.

You have to stop after each sentence and really let his words melt into your psyche.

There were times, in our lengthy discussions when he would refer back to his namesake: Marcus Aurelius.  Some of you may have heard of him.  Yes, he’s referred to by Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  In the movie scene, he explains:

“First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?”

His biggest contribution (Aurelius, not Lecter) to Western Philosophy are his writings, which are the foundation for Late Stoicism.  If you have not had the opportunity to read Meditations, you are missing out.  I warn you that this is not a simple read or an easy lift.  He wrote the book for nobody – he even chastizes himself in the pages for believing that anybody (even himself) will have the time or patience to go back and read his scribblings.  It is because of this perceived lack of audience that he can be most true and honest to himself,  to expose his thoughts and insights.  You have to stop after each sentence and really let his words melt into your psyche.  I am only about halfway through but I have seriously been working on this short volume for months.  You’re almost afraid to skim it, to miss some small detail, the ultimate key to making every lock open in your world.  It’s that deep. Cliff Notes is considered cheating…

The reason that you’re reading this long, drawn out story is that I’ve decided to start yet another series of articles based upon the first chapter of Aurelius’ Meditations.  This is one of his shortest, actually, and it basically consists of a comprehensive list of traits that he is thankful to have, and the people in his life that helped him develop these.

The people who know me well realize that, as a classic INTJ personality, this is an experiment that I have never tried on my own.  I judge everybody else and I am, by definition, off limits to prying eyes.  As a growth experiment, a way of cracking open the carapace (OK, maybe I’m a little lobster-like), I’ll be looking at the people who helped me turn into the man I am today.

For you, Marcus, I dedicate a song from my childhood.  I never really understood the meaning of the lyrics when I was growing up – I was way too young .  Lately, the final lines keep coming back to haunt me.  I finish with a final paraphrase of the above mentioned good doctor: “I have no plans to call on you … the world [was] a more interesting place with you in it.”


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