“The price we must pay for being sentient and self-conscious organisms” — Aldous Huxley
In the opening scenes of “Saturday,”Henry Perowne witnesses a fiery streak shooting across the sky, which he identifies as an incendiary airplane. While reading his account of the matter, I couldn’t help but imagine myself in the situation. If I was married and had a significant other, would I wake them up or would I save them from such a sight and corresponding emotional thought process. In another one of my classes, Literature of Children of Holocaust Survivors, we discuss frequently the topic of bearing witness, and the effect this has on a person. Bearing witness to such an event as seeing a possible terrorist attack, or perhaps just a failed domestic flight, leaves the witness with extreme confusion in light of his or her experience.
The internal battle that Perowne faces starts him down the description of his options. What effect will waking his wife have on him? Will it be a consolation to him, to have someone next to him as he views charred humans soaring through the sky. Is it a selfish action to wake his sleeping wife, just for his own comfort? What is the true point?
However, his wife has her own thought process (though asleep). If I was his wife and I woke in the morning and knew my husband had witness the crash, would I be angry with him for not stirring me. Is there a inherent desire to witness other’s tragedy? People flock to literature of the Holocaust, September 11, and the remains of Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb. Is it truly out of empathy that people seek to investigate such topics, or for some deeply buried sadistic need to experience severe anguish in a third party– living vicariously through others.
Perhaps this need to bear witness is tied in with the whole ennui that Perowne deals with throughout the novel. These large catastrophic events ground us in our small, powerless existence. Horrifying and humanizing, such cataclysmic occurences return people such as neurosurgeons with inflated egos back to the realization that as much as they believe they are playing God, they really are in no more control of anything than anyone else.
Perowne’s egotistical and meticulous manner of professionalism represents his deepest desire for control. His intense knowledge and expertise in matters of the brain represent a power he has over such arenas. However, what he experiences throughout the novel only make him realize that no matter how much he attempts to work at gaining control, he is no less a child at the will of the universe than the rest of us.
Coming to terms with such that is the human condition, I find selections of the Desiderata to be of great comfort and in such a manner, I hope they find you well as we end this semester:
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
— Siobhan C.