Just cracked open Thomas Merton, “The New Man,” and within two pages I was struck by something which points at one of the more mysterious elements of my life.

To begin, here’s the passage from Merton:

“Life and death are at war within us.  As soon as we are born, we begin at the same time to live and die.

“Even though we may not be even slightly aware of it, this battle of life and death goes on in us inexorably and without mercy.  If by chance we become fully conscious of it, not only in our flesh and in our emotions but above all in our spirit, we find ourselves involved in a terrible wrestling, an agonia not of questions and answers, but of being and nothingness, spirit and void…

“Everything hangs on the final issue, in the battle of life and death.  Nothing is assured beforehand.  Nothing is definitely certain.  The issue is left to our own choice.  But that is what constitutes the dark terror of the agonia:  we cannot be sure of our own choice.  Are we strong enough to continue choosing life when to live means to go on and on with this absurd battle of entity and nonentity in our own inmost self?”

Yeah, he’s not wasting any time getting into his subject, which is very appealing to this reader.  Moreover, I am especially drawn to a writer who can somehow name, or point to, or even describe an experience in my life which I came to believe was mine alone, or at least seldomly shared.

The experience is this:  When I was younger, one of my recurring dreams saw me being chased throughout the night.  The reasons for the chase might vary, though the one chasing me was, every time, intending to kill me.

I would run forever, up and down innumerable flights of stairs, over fields and through busy streets.  There might be someone with me, also running, or I might be alone.  If we split up, the chaser was still after me.

I would run so long in these dreams, and with such great bursts of energy, that soon I was weary of the hunt.  Somehow I could feel that burning emptiness in my body, after all of the adrenaline was used up.  Moreover, it was truly the emotional drain that caused me to lag.  Would I never be able to lose the chaser?  Would I never stop running?  If so, what was the point?

The chaser never quite caught me, even when I decided in my dream to stop running.  I would always wake up before it could happen, except once.  (This was the rather gory incident when the chaser, with a chain saw, was cutting through one of my legs while I watched on, out-of-body like.  But the dream was over before I died).

So, to answer Merton – I suppose I agree that I can’t be sure of my choice.  I wonder what anyone else would say.

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