[Originally written on 4 March 2012 at 15h45.]
I already got to deliver my last lecture for my PH101-PH102 students this year. In a few days, I’ll be listening to all their final group presentations and final oral exams, as well as checking all their final synthesis papers.
My last lecture was pretty straightforward. It grafted the last chapters of Paul Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another unto his exposition of the three-fold mimesis, and it was about how being human ultimately means having conviction.
Of course, nothing about having conviction is straightforward. I may have delivered my lecture in a linear and diagrammed manner, but its subject, having conviction, is anything but linear—and it most definitely cannot be diagrammed in real life.
All in all, however, I managed to tell my students that what it means to be human—more precisely, what it means to be a good human being—is to be whoever they are as individuals: To be human is to work and re-work on their identities, to strive for self-constancy for those who are counting on them to remain themselves, and to be willing to put their selves at stake for whoever they make themselves to be and for whomever may be counting on them.
As I delivered my last lecture, I observed the behavior of my students. There was, of course, the usual “I can’t wait for all of this to be over” expression on some of their faces, but there were also the encouraging “I get what you’re saying” and “I can so relate” nods. More than these, however, was the quiet but discernible deep inhale, accompanied by a pause in note-taking, and then followed by a thoughtful stare into space, a nostalgic half-smile, or a knowing/telling look thrown in the direction of a friend in class.
I knew that such instances of the quiet but discernible deep inhale among my students could’ve been about something other than what I was discussing in my last lecture. (“Fuck, I forgot about the paper due tomorrow!”) I also knew that such instances could’ve been faked to feign an interest in the course. (“I look interested, but I really can’t wait for all of this to be over.”) Nevertheless, I found such instances—the genuine ones of course, if any of them were genuine—reassuring. (“At least I broke through to a few of my students.” “Teaching is not a hopeless vocation after all.”)
Aside from the reassurance, the quiet but discernible deep inhale—the genuine kind—indicated a moment of personal reflection within my students. (“Who am I, really?” “But how do I get over my problems and issues?” “Am I happy?” “What do I want to do with my life?”) Witnessing such a moment of personal reflection within my students, in turn, triggered a moment of personal reflection within me. (“I’m already twenty-seven years old.” “I’m not getting any younger.” “Where am I going?” “Am I doing the right thing?”) Of course, as soon as I sensed that I was reflecting in the middle of my last lecture, I stopped it. I commanded myself to suspend any personal thoughts and questions ’til after my classes were over—’til the weekend, even.
And now it’s the weekend. And to be honest, I’d actually forgotten about my last lecture. I was reminded of it only just a few minutes ago, while I was putting away my freshly laundered clothes in my closet, when John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” (care of my iPod on shuffle) blared through my flat. It was enough to make me remember: “Because I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still verdictless life. Am I living it right?…”
The lyrics made me pause for a bit—actually, they made me quietly but discernibly and deeply inhale—as they suddenly reminded me of the personal thoughts and questions I’d seen, so to speak, in the apparent personal reflection of a few of my students during my last lecture.
And you know what? I didn’t spend that much time reflecting on my personal thoughts and questions—and it wasn’t because I was being unreflective. It was actually much simpler and easier than that: I remembered once again that I was happy.
I am happy.
I spent the last three weeks working like hell but having the time of my life: I checked papers, held classes, attended meetings, examined graduating philosophy majors, and got peer-evaluated for my teaching. I went to a wedding expo and a dress fitting with and for one of my sisters, had drinks and meals with friends and colleagues, and spent a weekend in Ormoc with strangers (and also with my sister) to style a prenuptial photo shoot (actually, my sister and her fiancé’s). I began re-learning how to play the guitar and how to speak French, I got to watch the first season of Community, and I finished reading at least two books unrelated to work. I paid my rent, (partially) paid my credit card bills, cleaned my flat, and finally found time to completely do my laundry.
So when I heard John Mayer sing, “So what? So I’ve got a smile on. But it’s hiding the quiet superstitions in my head. Don’t believe me, don’t believe me, when I say I’ve got it down”—all I thought of in reply was, “Because I believe I’ve got it down, and it doesn’t really matter whether you, Anonymous Persona, believe me or not.”
Conviction, folks. Conviction.
By the way, which Chinese thinker was it who said, “After enlightenment, the laundry”? I can’t remember right now. But today—laundry day—has taught me, in a serendipitous and silly way, that after the laundry, there can be enlightenment too.
Laundry, folks. Laundry.