Joe and Siddhartha

by cheri block

Had his lungs and heart held out for just six more months, Joe would have been eighty years old today. His presence in my life was like a bonfire that burned for forty-five years with an endless supply of fuel.  A brilliant philosopher and literary critic, a bombastic Sicilian, my tutor, at times my surrogate father, my weekly lunch date and my friend, Joe died last year while waiting for the ambulance in the black of night on the Ides of March. And it is no coincidence that I would be called from my memories of him today to attend class tonight for the purpose of discussing Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Joe was my Vasudeva. From him, over the course of four decades and from among the many pieces of wisdom I absorbed, two stand out as mantras for living in the present: Qué Será, Será and Baby, I don’t do nostalgia. 🙂

They segue right into the story of  Siddhartha. “Ceasing to fight against one’s destiny” is one of the most powerful sentences in the novel and it naturally comes at the end. By the time we have witnessed Siddhartha’s journey (which reminds me, oddly, of a year in the life of a high school junior), we expect a fusion of all things.  But are all things one? Am I part of the creek that runs through our Rancho? And more importantly, do I have a destiny? I have an obligation to be a steward of our little creek and mighty oaks, but I am not part of them. My destiny is largely what I make it. I will not sit by the creek bank and wait for destiny to come to me. Was Siddhartha an enlightened one? Or was he just a fella from the upper class looking for a feel-good philosophy to explain away his past actions?

About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in On fiction, People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Joe and Siddhartha

  1. Cyberquill says:

    Hermann Hesse, Lindsay Lohan, and I share the same birthday. It’s also the day American Independence was adopted and Hemingway shot himself. We’re all one.

    • Cheri says:

      That’s unity, I guess.
      I share the same birthday as Jackson Brown and John Lennon.

      • Cyberquill says:

        Unity strikes again: I was told a few times that I looked like a young Jackson Browne. That’s how I know the name. And John Lennon and I ended up in the same ER at St. Luke-Roosevelt’s in NYC following traumatic injury, except that I survived my emergency surgery. (I’d severed two tendons in my left index finger trying to cut a large carrot with a blunt knife.)

        • Cheri says:

          Oh my. I am impressed. I loved John Lennon and went into shock when he was murdered.
          You are one of the wittiest people in the blogosphere, that’s for sure.
          I just can’t keep up with all the clever quipping.

          • Cyberquill says:

            No, no—I really slashed my tendons in the manner described. No quipping. I had bought the carrot at a deli on Ninth Ave at 58th, right next to where I lived—and (attempted to) fix my meals—then, and the ER entrance was on Ninth and 59th. These days there’s a Rite Aid or something. They’ve moved the ER down to the hospital’s Tenth Ave entrance I think. Had it been all the way down there when I cut my finger, I may have bled to death on the way, too, because I had to walk with a gaping hole in my hand.

            I’ve never purchased vegetables at a deli since.

            • Cheri says:

              When are you going to write your book? I’m not quipping either. Besides, I don’t have the quick wit to quip. I’ll leave that to you, Mr. Crotchety, Andreas, and Jenny. Really.

              I think you are very funny. You write beautifully. You have a serious intellect. Go for it.
              (but don’t ask me to read the first draft…I have been asked to do that too many times in my life…)

              By the way, have you ever taken yoga?

            • Cyberquill says:

              I’ve never taken yoga per se, but I took some jazz dance and Karate, and I’ve incorporated a few stretching exercises and yoga positions (such as the “plow”) into my personal fitness regimen.

              There are, of course, more different types of yoga than breakfast cereals, which makes it difficult to know what each person might mean when they say “yoga.” In my acting days, for instance, I sometimes worked with an actress who was very much into a type of yoga that involved holding her open palms over her food prior to eating it so as to somehow synchronize her own energy to that of the food. I’ve seen other people do it, too, often discretely, because I guess they were taught by their gurus that the unenlightened wouldn’t understand, so then they simply pretend to be resting their chins on the backs of their hands—thus forming a kind of roof over their plates—while listening intently to their company, when in fact they’re busy “realizing” their food, i.e., doing yoga.

              And I don’t see myself ever writing a book, but if I did, I wouldn’t be handing out “first drafts” for evaluation. Most likely, I’d just have an occasional question about whether one or the other sentence “sounds English.” Anything beyond that, and I’d feel morally obligated to put that person on the cover as my co-author and share royalties.

  2. A contemplative life is not synonymous with sitting by a river and doing nothing but meditate in the vagueness of something. Ask any Trappist or Benedictine monk or cloistered nun.
    To be one with all is not renouncing our individuality. When we renounce who we are, we become nothing so how can we be in the all?

  3. Cheri says:

    Good question Paul.

    I do stand corrected (by my professor). Siddhartha in Hesse’s novel is not the Buddha. In the end, after his spiritual journey, he takes the place of Vasudeva, the Ferryman. For the rest of his life, he ferries sojourners across the river.

  4. Man of Roma says:

    I think there is something to learn from that beautiful novel, in the tradition of the German Bildungsromans (like most of Hesse’s novels), usually stories centered on the growth of an individual. Even if it is a path we would not choose, such novels – how some people chose to travel through life and overcome its difficulties – are always interesting and make us reflect.

  5. Cheri says:

    I agree, Giovanni.
    This quarter we have been exploring the meaning of life. Siddhartha was the last novel assigned in which the main character had found meaning. For the last class, we are to read Camus’s “The Stranger” about a man who has no meaning in his life.
    Your point is well taken.
    My essay has to do with reflection.

    • Man of Roma says:

      Oh I find Camus depressing and pointless.

      • Cheri says:

        One of my favorite short stories to teach is “The Guest”.
        I hear from my professor that “The Fall” is also good.

        He’s ok for me to read.

        • dafna says:

          Cheri i’m guessing you’re re-reading “the stranger”? it was on my reading list in french.

          Camus is depressing, because existentialists are depressing in general. though maybe not a “strict” existentialist, all the pieces are there… lovely uplifting thoughts like “all lives are equally meaningless, and absolute relativism, since it’s the individual that attributes meaning the their own actions”.

          but i’m probably just “teaching the teacher” since you have already taught camus.
          “the stanger” is a haunting book, deceptively simple in words, complex in ideas.

  6. I had a Hermann Hesse phase exactly 20 years ago. I read all of his major novels in succession. It fit perfectly my Sturm und Drang at the time.

    But by the time I got to Siddhartha, I remember thinking, ‘wow, now he’s getting a bit corny, isn’t he?’ Whereas with Demian and Narziss und Goldmund and Steppenwolf etc etc he had pushed my buttons into a self-indulgent rage, with Siddhartha i started pulling back. I think that was the last one I read.

    I wonder what I’d say today if I read it again.

    • Cheri says:

      Siddhartha reminds me a little bit of The Alchemist. A little too formulaic and predictable.
      The professor put the last sentence of this little bit I wrote up on the whiteboard and asked for discussion.
      Most thought Siddhartha had lived a real and meaningful life.

      I was in the minority.

      • You mean, your prof put these two sentences on the whiteboard?

        “Was Siddhartha an enlightened one? Or was he just a fella from the upper class looking for a feel-good philosophy to explain away his past actions?”

  7. Cheri says:

    Each week we submit a one-page paper that includes a response to the assigned piece of literature along with its connection to our lives. I’ve enjoyed the exercise even though I dismissed the idea at first.

    He put several other one-liners from several other students’ papers up on the board. He amended mine to read,
    ” Was he looking for a feel-good philosophy to explain away his past actions?”

    I was disappointed he left out the “fella from the upper class…”

Leave a Reply to Man of Roma Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s