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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Thu Aug 31, 2017 11:29 pm

Chapter 2

            In the subsequent years high school was endured. Ari made some links with the ‘common man’ in later years playing in the baseball team, but he was a little too nerdish for the liking of most students. Although he attracted the interest of a number of girls, Ari avoided the attention. His arrogance and disdain for what he considered was typically feminine, caused him to categorise girls as uninformed, shallow and frivolous. This soon discouraged those drawn by his tousled sandy hair, blue eyes and fresh faced good looks.

            In the later years of his secondary schooling Ari lived in the large two storey house on the hill with his grandmother. This was because his father had accepted a professorship at a university in the States. At first he said he had to organise for them to move. When Ari told him he was not going, his father arranged for Marree to move in. In some ways Alfred seemed relieved that parenting duties were no longer something he had to consider. And even though he had not spent much time in the past nurturing his son, Alfred felt secure enough in Ari’s determination to stay to ask a number of times, as a matter of decency, if Ari was sure he didn’t want to change his mind and come and join him. On one occasion, just to throw a scare into his father, Ari pretended to consider the offer seriously, suggesting maybe he should go to the US. The entertainment he drew from watching his father squirm, tempted Ari to push the charade even further, citing possible universities he might attend and saying his grandmother should come too. The resultant back-pedalling by his father, though immensely humorous to Ari, had the cruel twist of reinforcing how little Alfred cared about him. His stated concerns of the insecurity of tenure and that the move was really a trial at this stage, were to Ari thinly veiled statements of his own self interest.

            During this time Marree occasionally hinted that she’d like some company going to church. Ari could most often deflect the notion that he should attend by claiming he had study to do. When this wasn’t possible, during holiday periods, he was struck by strange maladies or had made arrangements with imaginary friends; arrangements that led to him having aimless walks through the local mall.

                                    -------------------------------------------------------  

 

While high school was an uncomfortable experience, university and Ari fitted together like hand in glove. He impressed lecturers with incisive questions and always did more than was expected. Ari checked out the clubs; he contributed articles to student publications, haunted the library and hogged computers that were meant to be used more equitably among the students. This wholly focused and enthusiastic involvement in university life brought about excellent grades at the end of the first year. But that was all incidental to Ari who was pleased to actually find a niche and link up with students that showed a level of friendship he hadn’t known before.

 He found a steady companionship in Michael, with whom he did a number of first year general subjects. Both had a facility with mathematics and enjoyed going way beyond expected presentations with mathematical proofs, applications of number theory and problem solving. Michael’s love was to spend time in the cafeteria playing cards, but both were often interrupted to assist other students with a number theorem or a calculus problem. For the first time Ari began to get some advantage from his nerdish-ness. Gaining self esteem from the need others had for him. However, there was no humility, no consideration or patience for those less adept with the vagaries of higher mathematics and Ari shamelessly suggested tuition fees to some.

            His interest in girls made some considerable gains and his assistance to those girls he found attractive was never associated with a request for payment. There was one girl that he saw occasionally in lectures that he found particularly beguiling. Whenever he saw her he would sit behind and to one side to get a better view of her. He still managed to maintain some degree of attention to the prescribed subject matter, but relished the distraction of the preferred subject matter.

At the end of first year Michael left saying someone had discovered his talent of writing computer programs and he couldn’t knock back the offer of an ample salary.

            So, second year was fairly quiet for Ari. It was clear to him that Michael had been the attractive personality in their duo. They had always had several other students around. Now Ari was pretty much alone again. Most students saw him as prickly and superior minded.

                                                            -----------------

Up until this particular balmy autumn day, his second year had continued in much of the same vein; being alone, doing his work and sometimes helping another student who recalled that he knew his stuff even if he was a pain. This day something would happen that would change his life. Ari sat, as was his custom, in the third row of the lecture theatre. The beautiful blonde girl was absent from her favoured seat in the front row and Ari was more focused than usual. Bob Reams, a bespectacled, balding man, began his philosophy lecture emphasising the importance of meta-cognition; how thinking about thinking was a safety check for your point of view. He talked about different realities. Was it possible to share experiences? What was common in our understandings—our use of words? What do we perceive when another expresses meaning with a group of words? Eventually, sensing that he was losing his audience he changed from the didactic to the interrogative.

“For instance...” he proclaimed, “Tell me; how do you know you’re not dreaming all this?”

One hand to the side went up.

“Yes?”

“Our senses give information to our brains that we’re conscious and experiencing this.” The bespectacled girl looked pleased with herself.

“Because my dreams are more interesting than this.” quipped Ari, without looking up from adding to the artistic swirls and whorls of his complex doodle. There was a swell of laughter. Reams tried to take advantage of this sudden reaction.

“Let’s just say this is just one of those inexplicable, boring dreams Mr James.” He referred to Ari by name because he was notorious for his interjections and inability to refrain from voicing witticisms as well as his vigorous approach to his tutorials. “This whole event is just occurring in your head, as it obviously has to for you to be cognisant of it, whether it is real or not. How could you possibly tell if this is a ‘real experience’;” along with an exaggerated tone Reams gestured inverted commas for added emphasis, “or just a ‘Matrix-like’ cerebral simulation?”

Ari looked up. He had just completed an ornate question mark on his note pad.

“Well the evidence I have is pretty convincing. I usually dream in bed and make myself as comfortable as I can. I can tell you this seat is not as comfortable as my bed. Secondly, I have never had a dream where everyone is having the same dream as me. But I have to confess these things may not convince you that this is not a dream. Am I right?”

“That’s true Mr James. This could all be just happening in your head.” he said smugly.

“Well, if that’s the case, and it is just my dream.” Ari said standing up. “You won’t mind if I dream that I now go to the cafeteria for a nice cup of coffee... and in my dream, a whole lot of other people just get up and go to the caf’ with me.”  Ari walked out and, amazingly, most of the other students got up and left as well.

Bob Reams, to his credit, had a half smile on his face. He waved the remainder out. The lecture had finished early, but they were thinking, hopefully, about thinking.

 

 

Ari was halfway to the cafeteria amongst a noisy and excited swarm of students.

“You’re crazy!”

He spun around at the sound of the voice near to him. Ari stopped in his tracks as he was confronted by the attractive girl who was the centre of his secret attentions. She was in blue jeans and white tee-shirt. Had she just spoken to him? He seemed hypnotised by her wavy long blonde hair and blue eyes. He knew he should say something. Ari almost said, ‘I didn’t think you were there,’ but he stopped short. What had she said? Then he remembered –‘You’re crazy,’ and after an awkward moment of the two staring at each other he responded.

“Why?”

It was such a long time in coming that she looked at him, “Why what?”

“Why do you say I’m crazy?”

“You just ended Bob Reams’ lecture. He’ll be furious.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll just tell him I thought I was dreaming.”

She grinned at his predictable response. He didn’t know what else to say and felt uncomfortable standing there with students passing by them on either side.

“Let’s keep going. I think we’re in the way,” he said, though inside his mind he was appalled at his lack of originality. ‘This is where I’m meant to sparkle with irresistible wit, to dazzle her with my cleverness’, he thought.

“Okay,” she assented and nodded once as if to affirm that it was a unanimous decision. 

            They began walking along with the general flow again.

“My name’s Justine. My friends call me Juzzy. Do you mind if I join you for that coffee?”

Ari smiled. “Not at all, my dream’s turning out better than I thought.” ‘Did I say that?’ thought Ari. He had meant to refer to the lecture comment, but in retrospect it came out sounding so smooth. She responded with a wrinkled nose smile that said, ‘You’re laying it on too thick.’ Then as an afterthought he added, “By the way my name’s Ari.”

“Ari?” she gave an inquisitive look.

“It’s a long story. I won’t bore you with it,” he added as they queued up for a coffee. A few of Justine’s friends joined them in the queue and she introduced Ari to Jen, Sissy and Reece.

“What do you want to drink?” he asked her as they arrived at the counter.

“Latte thanks,”

Ari ordered a cappuccino and then paid for Justine’s coffee and his own.

“You shouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? It’s my dream; I can do anything I want.”

 

            Making their way to a table near the back, Ari was becoming embarrassed by the exuberant, supportive comments of students who had joined in his exodus.

“You’re quite the star,” said Justine.

“Yeah, well I didn’t mean to be. It just makes me sick to hear some of the rubbish they call lectures.”

“Wow, that’s a bit severe.”

 He looked at her mildly reproving gaze, noting that she didn’t look any less attractive for want of a smile, though there was humour in the crinkle around her eyes.

“I guess,” he paused, “I suppose I have enough trouble dealing with reality without having to decide whether I’m imagining my reality or actually living it.”

“So you think perception is reality.”

Ari was impressed. Justine had confronted him with what had probably been the nexus of the lecture. ‘She has beauty and brains’ he thought to himself and then flayed himself for the unimaginative quality of his cliché. Before he could respond the others joined them at the table.

Reece, who had just caught Justine’s summation, observed obliquely, “You guys solve the meaning of life yet?” and then pulled up a chair and sat on the end of the table. Jen had already taken the seat next to Justine, while Sissy, a striking dark haired girl with large brown eyes had sidled next to Ari. Reece seemed a little miffed that he was now sharing his three female friends with someone else. He was tall, with a fairly slight frame, dark haired and relatively good looking, but he wasn’t pretentious in any way.

 

            Justine resumed where she had left off, ignoring Reece’s banter. “Tell me Mr James, is perception reality?”

Ari grinned at her. “Are you making me pay for short changing you on a philosophy lecture?”

Jen, who had short sandy hair (‘not red’ she would say), a cute spray of freckles and a mischievous grin chuckled, “I think he’s avoiding your question Juzzy.”

“Way to go Juzzy!” this was Reece’s cheer for who knew what.

“No.”

“No, is that it?” asked Justine tilting her head with amusement.

Ari, a little less jovially this time continued. “You asked me if I thought perception was reality. The short answer is; no, I don’t think perception is reality.

The long answer is that perception is often an illusion, so that the illusion is real to the person but it doesn’t describe the true, or real, state of affairs. People say ‘it’s their reality’; that only takes into account their understanding, not the real situation itself. It’s like a bird fighting its reflection in a window… seems real to the bird, nevertheless its deluded. So perception is not reality. But,” he said with quiet stress on each word looking steadily into his inquisitor’s guileless expression, “reality is what I seek to perceive.”

 

“I think that’s highly commendable,” stated Sissy gazing into Ari’s face and smiling. He returned her gaze and then looked at Justine.

“We have a truth-seeker in our midst, ever vigilant in his pursuit of reality,” Justine ribbed. He felt suddenly a little unsure. Were they mocking him? “So Justine, is that why you introduced yourself... to quiz me on philosophy?”

The others were taken aback by his change of mood. Sensing his vulnerability, Justine’s expression altered to one of consolation. She realised how their teasing could be construed if you were a little thin skinned.

“Call me Juzzy... and no Ari, I’m sorry if that’s what it seems like. I’m interested in your philosophy, but really I’d just like to be friends.”

Ari took a sip of his coffee. What she said warmed his heart. Not the… ‘I’d like to be friends’ comment, but when she said ‘call me Juzzy’. “I’m sorry. People think I’m a nerd. I don’t make friends easily. I guess you can see why.” He immediately regretted the last sentence and the way it made him sound self-pitying.

 

            The remaining time at the cafeteria table together was spent just getting to know each other better and sharing stories of high school. Sipping coffee and talking with his new acquaintances was such an agreeable experience that Ari was loath to stop and go to his mathematics tutorial. As they got up to go their various directions Juzzy touched him on the shoulder.

“Say, why don’t you meet with us tomorrow at one in 208? We have debating club. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.”

Looking into her fresh faced open gaze and merry eyes, he searched for a word to describe her demeanour. ‘Sunny’ was the word that best fit.

“208?” he wasn’t that clear which building.

“Sorry… 208 Humanities building,” Justine smiled as he left.

 

 

            That Wednesday he turned up at H208. He knew it was because he was attracted to this kind, vivacious female student. It appeared that Sissy, Jen and Reece didn’t share her interest in intellectual sparring, but he met other characters that drew his attention. There was Brian, who seemed to be the convenor and welcomed everyone to an informal circular discussion of possible propositions worthy of their attention; and Lyn, who represented the Christian Fellowship group and, more than once, referred to statements made by C S Lewis about morality and God consciousness. Unable to restrain himself Ari spent considerable time mocking and discounting some of their philosophies and faiths as irrational, unscientific beliefs. His contention was that psychological analysis provided the answers to behavioural issues in terms of stimulus response data and the innate tendency of humans to assimilate information in a reaction to cognitive dissonance. So curiosity about things that didn’t seem to make sense allowed people to learn about themselves and their environment. The way Ari delivered his comments showed a degree of arrogance of which he was blithely unaware.

            Abjectly disappointed when he was shunned the next time they met, Ari went over to Justine.

“Juzzy, what’s wrong? I seem to smell bad today.”

“Well Ari, I guess it has a lot to do with how you argue. Instead of just dealing with the main points, you put down people who don’t agree with you. You dictate a verdict rather than outlining your understandings. Why don’t you try rationalising rather than ridiculing?” Her answer sounded harsher than she meant it to be, but she didn’t back peddle because it was actually what she thought.

“Thanks.” he said in an apparently very ungrateful way and brooded for the remainder of the meeting.

            Following him out as he sauntered to the car park Justine called to him. He turned, “Yeah?”

“You’re in a grump aren’t you?”

Ari couldn’t help grinning at her playful teasing.

“I guess.”

“Well, if my friends ask for my opinion. I tell them what I really think, because they’re my friends. So I’m sorry if it’s not what you wanted to hear.”

Ari looked at her... an open, direct gaze from her clear blue eyes and her hair in a ponytail. The look stirred up the hint of a memory that he couldn’t consolidate.

“The problem is I have to listen don’t I? I mean I am the ‘truth-seeker’,” he mocked himself with a cartoon superhero voice. “The other problem is,” he said quietly, “is that I have to be right. Maybe I got it from my father. I’m sorry,” he apologised.

Justine touched his arm. She knew that she had just had a glimpse of the person behind the façade. “You don’t share much about yourself usually do you?”

A rush of emotion flooded through Ari, unfamiliar as he was to the kindness or affection of others.

“No... not really.”

“We should talk then, do some delving into our personal backgrounds,” she suggested. After looking into each other’s eyes for an uncomfortable few moments, and self consciously lifting her hand off his arm, Justine smiled and pointed past him. “Hey, my car is over that way, see you. By the way, sorry if you were snubbed today, you know you’re welcome to the meetings.”

“Yeah, I probably deserved it.” He waved as she ran off and he went to his motor cycle and headed off home.

 

            Of course, at the debating club Ari couldn’t help himself. He spent much time debunking the quaint stories of some of the Christians that attended with his logical arguments. Justine watched with some disappointment, while the others were generally more tolerant of his abrasive comments. She thought they were especially forbearing when his criticisms were about religions causing so much angst in the world. Glancing over at Justine, Ari suddenly moderated his comments and tried to qualify that he understood religions did much good as well.

            After the session Ari and Justine went for coffee in the student lounge. At three on Wednesday afternoon it was almost deserted. They sat sipping the hot brews. Folksy blues music was coming through the speakers making an agreeable atmosphere for a tête-à-tête. This time she was not upset or critical, but responded with equanimity.

“Ari, do you think that perhaps you would learn more if you considered the other side of the argument? You know, imagine why people believe what they believe... have some empathy.”

He stirred his coffee before looking up. “It’s a good technique. Helps you anticipate where your opponent is coming from.”

“I’m not talking about just debating. I’m talking about learning... say to yourself, ‘what can I learn from this? Why is this important? Why do I disagree?’”

“You mean evaluate my motives?” He waited for a response but she just examined him as if she was on a jury trying to determine his guilt or innocence. “I can tell you now, I’m just plain disagreeable.”

“With that I concur,” she said officiously.

“Okay, seeing that you’re clear about what my distortions and aberrations are... Where do you stand on Christian faith? What do you think of all that stuff that Lyn talks about?” he asked Justine.

“I want to keep an open mind about it. You know there are some out and out Christians that I really admire.”

“And there are some I don’t think much of at all.”

“You’re right. But as Lyn says if you’re considering Christianity the only person you need to consider is Jesus. And I believe he has pretty good credentials.”

Ari looked at her. He thought of his Gran and how, if he wanted a good role model for the Christian faith, she fitted the bill. Her quiet wisdom, her care of him, her charitable heart and her willingness to always give someone another chance, all bespoke her faith in action. He was looking at the other side of the argument and it immediately smashed his belligerent attitude to Christianity.

 

            “You look distracted.” Justine had placed her hand on his to gain his attention. Ari thought how much he liked the way she used her touch to add to her words. He picked up her hand and rubbed it softly with his fingers thinking, that apart from his Gran, how little actual affectionate physical contact he had had with any person let alone a lovely girl such as Justine. He was contrasting her delicate skin to his large mitt and enjoying the warm softness of her hand, when he heard her clear her throat. Glancing up he quickly realised she was embarrassed. Her eyes went to a distant table where a couple of girls were smiling at them.

“Oh, sorry...” he put her hand down. “What did you say? Distracted?”

She nodded, strangely aware that she had been moved by his gentle caress of her hand, and annoyed that she had communicated that she didn’t like it. She was annoyed too that she reacted to what others thought?

“What’s your family like Juzzy?”

“Boy, that’s out of the blue. Is that what you were thinking about?”

He nodded, thinking ‘family’ could be considered an acceptable segue, though his preoccupation was with the single bright spot in his ‘family’.

“Well, in the interests of getting to know each other better I’ll tell you my story. I’m the second eldest of four children, two brothers and a sister. My Dad’s a horticulturalist. He owns a plant nursery and my mum used to be a teacher before she got married. She’s spent most of her time looking after us since then. My parents are strict Methodists, but it’s all pretty dry to me. I mean they love me and all, but I have had a fairly sheltered life, and people like Lyn are a new experience to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, she seems to be confident with her faith. With her it’s every day, not just Sundays... and she enjoys talking about it.”

“My Gran’s like that.” He stared at the table wondering if it might be true. Could everything revolve around something that happened two thousand years ago?

 

“Tell me about your family.” There was a warm enthusiasm in her inquisitiveness.

“She is my family.” Ari raised his eyes and saw Justine pause, uncertain how to frame the next question. Normally, being true to his warped sense of humour, he would allow her to flounder with the delicate issue of whether his parents were still alive. However he assisted Justine.

“No, my parents are not dead... though they may as well be,” he added bitterly. “My parents divorced. My mother pursued a career and then remarried and my father left me for a research job in the US.”

“Are you angry?” He heard in her voice a gentle caring that moved him to bare his soul, but he held back, suddenly feeling more vulnerable than he had in a long time.

He stood up. “I was angry for a long time, but now, I think I don’t care, and that’s probably worse.” He slung his back pack on, “You coming?”

She shook her head, “Sit for a bit. It’s just you and your grandmother?”

He sat and nodded, “Mm huh,” the noise vocalising his ‘yes’.

She questioned him about what it was like growing up alone, but Ari became tight lipped rejecting any possibility that he should share his wretched home life.

Justine talked softly about her brothers and sister, and how they were a close knit family, but had the usual family spats. When he didn’t reciprocate with any more detail about his relationship with his grandmother, Justine felt a little vulnerable as well. They had stopped talking for almost a minute, which is an uncomfortable, interminable period for thinking where to look, scrambling in your mind for some new topic, wondering if you’d said something wrong and whether you were still friends.

 

“Would you like to go now?” Ari managed to ask.

            Justine nodded and got up. They walked to the car park together. Before they parted Ari commented with a silly grin, “You know Juzzy, I think I might look at the opposite sides of the argument. I need to gain some empathy.”

Justine half smiled and wondered what he was getting at. It wasn’t ‘truth-seeking’ however; it was much more like rebellion.

 

            Following this decision to be contrary, Ari began to argue against accepted scientific theory from a ‘Christian perspective’, just because he could. It was a more extreme form of radicalism which he enjoyed. Ari also became more aware of the tenuous basis for the faith of conventional scientists. He revelled in destroying a biology lecture by criticising the lecturer for talking about the origin of life when he didn’t even know what life was. He mocked at the suggested theories of ‘primordial soups’ or ‘replicating ordered crystalline structures’ as a basis for life, casting doubt on the vague explanations as to how these could result in the complex, comprehensive DNA blueprint we have today. And when Ari asked the lecturer to explain the difference between a live body and a dead one he received a reply that focused on electro-chemical reactions. The lecturer ignored him completely when asked what was necessary to make life in a laboratory.

            This unconventional stance he took was a way in which he could challenge the establishment. Now he could be an irritant to the sciences and their ‘holy cows’ – in a way it was his rebellion against his father, but his father knew nothing of it.
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