A Chamber Pot and Van Gogh’s Ear

I have been thinking about sanity and ways in which it might be preserved, lost, regained, or understood. What is sanity? Is it sane to ask? Is sanity relative? If you and I and several other people agree, does that make us sane? Is it sane to go to war? Many think it is. They also think they are sane. But are they? People who have burned other people at the stake thought they were sane. Over the centuries, those who ordered the extermination of entire nations thought they were sane, as did those who carried out their orders. If mass murder is an example of sanity, then who in their right mind would want to be sane?

I repeat: What is sanity? Is there such a thing? And, if so, is insanity its opposite? Or is insanity a sane response to what all too often passes for sanity? Is insanity what happens to a person when he is unable to adapt to the circumstance or society in which he finds himself? And what of the person who does not wish to adapt, who sees no advantage in it physically or mentally, who realizes his adaptation would cripple and torture him, and therefore goes his own way? Is he sane or insane? And what if he is not impressed by the concept of sanity? What if he cares more about the moment, and the miracles and surprises the moment contains?

I have read that when Beethoven was caught up in the fever of composition, he might pick up a pitcher of water and pour it on his head, or leave his chamber pot unattended for days.

Van Gogh cut off part of his ear. Later, he took his own life.

Do sanity and insanity come and go, or are they absolute? Does it matter?

Last night in a dream, I asked an old acquaintance I haven’t seen for years about the health of his father. When he told me his father no longer knew who he was, I felt very sad. Then the two of us took one of those inexplicable drives, which led us to an open grassy area in which dozens of lost souls were wandering about, looking like they were waiting for something. There were people of all ages, but most of them were young. All were unhappy, and some, I was sure, were insane. My acquaintance disappeared. A young man bumped into me, his eyes staring, and then he moved on. I began to walk, and as I walked, I drifted up off the ground. I walked carefully to avoid stepping on anyone’s head, and to avoid being pulled down by the ankle. Then I awoke.

As far as I was aware, I had not drifted up by choice, but I had chosen to avoid being pulled down by the ankle.

Sane, or insane? A choice, or not a choice?

Lord, this chamber pot is ghastly. But I still have both ears. That in itself is a blessing. And the moment. I must not forget the beautiful, mysterious, glorious, inexhaustible moment.

March 7, 2006

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