Eulogy for someone who didn’t ‘think’

By Andrei Codrescu

One day, a child who had been daydreaming under the big tree, was intercepted by an angry adult who looked at him with one hand on her hip and a ruler in her hand. “What, what?” mumbled the dreamer, who had just driven back an army of intruders and was about to make his victory speech before men in tophats who represented the best minds of all times in the fields of the sciences, arts and diplomacy.

“Think!” snapped the adult.

Ever since then, the kid, who grew up to be an adult, froze whenever someone required him to “think.” The very thought of thinking made him feel guilty because he knew that a request to “think” meant that he must think about something he’d done wrong, and so thinking for him became synonymous with guilt. If he “thought” long enough, he’d surely find out where he had upset the order of things.

In order to quit thinking, which would lead only to the inescapable conclusion that he was guilty, he began to “not think,” distracting his mind as much as possible from whatever might be considered “thinking.” His favorite activity until he had been ordered to “think” had been daydreaming, but this wonderful activity that had filled his entire childhood up to the point where the adult with the hand on her hip and the ruler showed up, was no longer possible in great, uninterrupted, prolonged bouts, precisely because it had been vitiated by the order to “think.” He still liked daydreaming, but he could only do it in short spurts, with a feeling of guilty pleasure, as if he were raiding the cookie jar of his own mind.

In school, where he studied in order not to think, he had a course on the nature and process of thought, and he found out, to his distress, that the majority of thinkers about thinking agreed that the process was fundamentally generated by the necessity to find out what was wrong. There were other activities that went by the name of thinking, such as “solving a problem,” “understanding one’s behavior” and “mulling about things,” and he didn’t mind these if he could splice them with sufficient daydreaming to make them mildly pleasurable. He had no problem concentrating to “solve a problem,” as long as the problem was solvable, or thinking about himself in order to understand exactly why he had lied unnecessarily about something insignificant, or mulling over the events of last night’s party or the odd functioning of the body politic. But he suspected that these practical applications of the powers of his mind had very little to do with what that stern figure with the ruler had meant when she so unsettlingly interrupted his speech before the assembled luminaries under that old tree.

He went to his grave without having ever succeeded in “thinking,” as he had been asked to do. At the wake, some of the mourners described him as having been “self absorbed,” while others thought him to have been “an extrovert.” It occurred to no one that they were keeping vigil over the corpse of someone who had spent an entire life trying to avoid the injunction to “think.” And if he had obeyed, would anyone have been the wiser?