Existing but not Living the Moment: My Recent Trip to New YorkContemporary existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel once proffered a telltale wisdom which I believe all men must embrace. Says the learned man: “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived” (Marias 438).I have good reasons to think that his adage speaks volumes for my particular case in that, in my otherwise young life, I have often caught myself so engrossed into living my life as though it were a Goliath to be slain. This happens almost on a daily basis; but I must make a particular mention of how I tend to treat my leisure times as moments to rigorously comply with my personal checklists and guidelines. In a manner of speaking, there are times when I find myself existing for a particular moment, but not really living it in a manner profound and meaningful.
In this paper, I wish to describe my recent trip to New York as a concrete incidence to cite the case in point. And using such experience as an impetus from where my reflections shall be inferred, I wish to argue that the meaning of human existence implies living a kind of life which balances an appreciation of reasonable liberty and spontaneity, and the observation of certain parameters of norm and rules, to serve as guide. I was with a couple of friends when I went to visit New York City last Spring Break. And since the entire trip was to last only for two days – i.e. overnight – we decided to carefully plan our itinerary long before the actual date of the visit arrived. To be sure, I and my friends would not be visiting the city for the first time; as I have been in the place a couple times before, or even more.
That being said, we still chose to plan the activities of the trip in the hope of ‘maximizing’ the moments of our short break. Armed with city-sanctioned brochures and hotel leaflets, as well as with a fair amount of past experiences to draw lessons from, we all agreed to focus our trip on to the key places of Lower Manhattan – six of them to be exact, including the Statue of Liberty, and at least one fine-dine restaurant to spend the evening in.. In a manner of speaking, the particular events of the said visit have been cast long before they were set to happen. There was, in a way, no room for changes, let alone errors; as everything has been predetermined according to our plans. But just as we thought everything was to fall according to how we planned things, we ended our trip visiting only two places – the hotel into where we opted to lodge, and an approximately a mile stretch of the Central Park where we spent the entire day talking and laughing, walking intermittently and squatting by the benches, eating hotdogs and nibbling crackers, and, watching a few talented kids do their stuffs in front of a handful of visibly amazed passers-by. But what is peculiarly interesting about the trip is this: that on our way back home after an overnight stay in New York, we realized that we could not have felt the searing warmth of friendship and company had we not decided to break free from the clutches of our own stipulated rules, and spend the day marked with liberty and spontaneity. My realizations after the trip were prolific.
At the very least, it taught me a valuable lesson about control in respect to freedom, or freedom vis-à-vis control – i.e., keeping a healthy balance between planning about things, and letting some events happen.
But looking at my recent New York trip under the lenses of Percy’s article entitled “The Loss of Culture” can likewise prove to be an insightful endeavor as well. This is because Percy is chiefly concerned with an attempt to define the contours of human experience under the larger purview of his concept of ‘sovereignty’, or a person’s fundamental sense of owning up the full weight of one’s encounter – or “struggle” – with reality (Percy 8). Percy’s believes many persons tend to automatically limit the possibilities of enjoying life by being too preoccupied to frame human experiences within the parameters of “symbolic complex”. To explicate this rather technical concept, Percy illustrates his point by citing how tourists – or sightseers – of the Grand Canyon are inclined to under-appreciate the nature of their visit when they are said to “waive their right to see” the sights in favor of “recording the symbols” of the place, for the sake of the past, or of the future (Percy 1). Percy thinks that Grand Canyon tourists do not live the present insofar as they are too engrossed with the preservation of their respective experiences with symbols of reality – e.
g. photographs. It is as if tourists in the Grand Canyon, while being physically present, nevertheless are metaphorically absent on account of their deflecting inclination to depart from the richness of the present, and dwell into the abstractions of the past and the future. In ways more than one, I agree with Percy’s keen observations; and my recent trip to New York City can attest to this.
This is because I placed higher premium than most on planning things ahead, instead of letting myself enjoy the experience of being able to go to New York City once more. More and more, I am beginning to think that the highly insistent manner by which I proposed to visit one tourist spot after another within the Lower Manhattan area, reveals only that I have surrendered my right to confront reality in favor of merely seeing what my brochures and leaflets graphically impress me. As indeed, more and more, I am starting to feel that I am one of the persons for whom Percy formulates this rather telling description:It is almost impossible (to gaze at the Grand Canyon) because…the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind…The sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex. (And as a consequence) the highest point, the term of the sightseer’s satisfaction, is not the sovereign discovery of the thing before him; it is rather the measuring up of the thing to the criterion of the preformed symbolic complex. (Percy 1)Fortunately, Percy believes that people can still recover their innate giftedness to encounter reality meaningfully. But this entails being, in a certain sense, lost into spontaneity; by breaking free from the tendency to subvert life under the symbols that we make (Percy 2).
As indeed, this further entails living with the power to determine how life is to be lived on account one’s own reasoned choice, and not on account of the certain rules leveled by “experts” or “theorists” (Percy 5). Once more, I find Percy’s thoughts striking a sensitive chord. This is because our being lost in New York – i.e., being lost to our plans – proved to be a healthy change from where our friendship exceedingly benefited. By allowing our New York-moments be defined by relative spontaneity, and not by a desire to ‘consume’ human experience, I believe that we have effectively regained what Percy so aptly calls as “one’s sovereignty” over reality – a rightful claim to the beauty and mystery which must be unraveled from reality (Percy 8).In the final analysis, I wish to affirm Percy’s contention in light of Gabriel Marcel’s wisdom saying – that there is more into life than merely being able to figure out one set of conundrum after another; that there is certainly more into life than merely allowing oneself drift onto the course of life moments without much appreciation and profound respect.
My recent trip to New York City was a revelation not only for myself, but also for my friends as well. And as we plan another trip in the near future, we shall always remember the inherent worth of owning up our place in the universe, by letting reality unravel its mystery to us, consciously and freely.Works CitedMarias, Julian. A History of Philosophy. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.
Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature”. 13 November 2008, <www.udel.edu/anthro/ackerman/loss_creature.pdf>