The Ordeal of Change

Carl drifted around. After spending his young adulthood as witness to man’s worst brutality, he found himself alone, trying to construct a set of values that might let him slowly re-approach civilized society again without that feeling of abnormality he couldn’t shake. Everywhere he saw hopeful people looking to the future that he’d helped shape. At 21, all he could look to was his past.

On January 6, 1946, he found some temporary work on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. At the lunch-whistle he walked the docks, looking angry, past the familiar whiskered-men smoking cigarettes and conversing in low secretive voices. He rounded a crate and came upon a longshoreman perched on a stack of pallets reading a book. He stood staring at him for a few minutes before the man looked up.

“What are you looking for?”

The question put Carl off balance. It was a simple question but the meaning hadn’t really sunk in before now. “I don’t really have an answer... maybe some action.”

“If you’ve just come back from the war, you’ve seen what men of action do. They make the train run on time but you don’t necessarily want a ride on it. Pascal said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he doesn’t know how to stay quietly in his room. Thirty minutes of introspection will answer almost every question you have, son. It’s what I do with my lunchtime every day. Most people don’t want answers though because answers don’t bring present happiness. People pray for their daily illusions as they do for their daily bread.”

Shortly, Carl moved on again as so many anomie-burdened returning soldiers had before. But the longshoreman-philosopher, Eric Hoffer, stayed on the docks for another twenty years of lunchtimes, completing four books of insightful observations on human nature.


Karinann said...

I had only vaguely known about Eric Hoffer, so thanks for the link. I love the quote by Pascal.
This man truly knew how to have a productive lunch!

cyurkanin said...

I couldn't resist throwing the Pascal quote into his mouth as both he and Hoffer were greatly influenced by the same book, Montaigne's Essays. Hoffer never had that moment on the road to Damascus like Pscal though.

He's one of the most influential people in how I see the world despite his sometimes Machiavellian detatchment. People quote his words a lot without ever knowing they were his words, maybe someday he'll get more recognition worldwide when the shelves and shelves of his notebooks are put into an orderly public collection.