Phil-osophy 1 – Intro to Edgeology January 15th, 2008

“Typically, I wake up in the morning and spread a couple of blankets out on the cliff’s side.  I have a cup of tea and watch the sun rise while meditating on the Giant Rock.”  Phil and I had just hiked to one of his favorite spots – a hidden canyon, where a great rock formation on the far side drew unavoidable focus.   Ancient petroglyphs confirmed that other people had found this spot of interest. 

Phil had carved a meditation cave out of the soft stone in the canyon wall across from the rock.  It was really cool.   

“So, that’s what you call it?”  I asked.  “ ‘The Giant Rock’? Does it have a name?”

“Just ‘Giant Rock,’ or ‘That Giant Rock.’”  Phil thought for a moment.  “I believe the Anasazi called it ‘Roger.’  Or some variant.  So I’m told.”

“Okay.  So you come here and gaze upon the rock…” 

“…formerly known as Roger.” 

“…and what do you think about?  What do you meditate on?”

“Nothing.” 

“Nothing?” 

“Nothing.” 

“You find a holy rock, gaze on it for hours, and you don’t even think about anything useful?  ‘Who am I?’  ‘What’s the point?’ Etcetera.” 

“Sometimes I learn more about a thing by thinking about nothing than by concentrating on the thing itself.  Really.  Once you know what nothing consists of, you can see what’s missing, right?  It’s all related to Edgeology.”

Edgeology. I instantly began to wonder how I would spell it.  

Phil could tell that I was curious about his way of seeing the world.  Also that I thought he’d been spending a little too much time alone.  Phil pondered for a moment, then launched into a kind of game. 

“Okay, you’re driving in your car.  A guy behind you keeps trying to pass and finally does. What do you call that guy?”

“Asshole.”

“Exactly.  Now there’s somebody in front of you, going way too slow. Who’s that guy?”

“Moron.”

“Right.  Only person going exactly the right speed?  You are.”

I looked at Phil suspiciously.  “Go on.”  Phil obliged.

“You’re a Jewish guy, right?”

“Just like Spock.” I raised my hand in the way Jewish people do.  “‘Live long and prosper’.”

“What do you call another Jew who observes more of the laws and rituals than you do?”

“Fanatic.”

“Less observant than you?”“Goy.”“I could do this all day. What do you call somebody who works harder than you do?”“Idiot.”“And less hard than you do?”“Slacker.  Okay. So?”“So, you already know who you are.  I bet most people do – without staring at a rock.  You’re somewhere between these two things that you’re not.  People are always doing this instant triage – even people who think of themselves as non-judgmental – and you are always in the middle.   If you want to know who you are, look in the middle.  That’s you.”“Of course!  It’s so simple!”“Quiet.  Drink your tea.  Anyhow, as you see, you can learn a lot about who you are by looking at who you are not.”   Ah.  I smiled knowingly.  “You’re using edgeology.”  He liked that I was on track with him. (By the way, I don’t feel that I need Phil’s approval or validation– I would call someone like that “insecure”.  Although somebody who feels no pleasure at getting approval is clearly “arrogant.”  I’m somewhere in the middle).

“This is nothing unfamiliar,” Phil continued. “Crossing the edge into not-you is a fine way to figure out where you ends and not-you begins.  Ask any teenager.”

I was going to ask Phil how he’d developed this interest in edges, but I already suspected it had something to do with Groundhog Day.  It didn’t take long for my old friend to make this connection for me.

“There was this one guy back in Punxs – named Jerome – and I was bored, and decided to provoke him.   I’m not proud of it, but for a while this was the kind of thing I did.  I wanted to get a rise out of him, see what he’d do.  Just to pass the time. 

“Turned out that Father Jerome was a mild mannered fellow and in a good mood to boot on that day, but I found his edge.  I pushed and pushed and pushed – got his pulse up, eyebrow twitching, got him saying things the Lord had specifically asked him not to.”

“Did he finally hit you?”

“Hit me?  He shot me in the face.  Twice.  Six times in the pump.  Clearly I had found this guy’s edge and crossed over it.  One time I was in the middle of a very public retelling of the story about Jerome and a certain cow known as “Bossy” and he subsequently shot me in a very painful place.  Very.  I only did that once.  In a sense, he’d found my edge. 

“It’s hard to gauge exactly where the line is without crossing it,” Phil continued, “sometimes over and over, trying to hit it just right, like a tennis player.  After many, many repetitions I knew right where Father Jerome’s line was. I could press right up against it, dance on the edge for hours as skillfully as a bitter old married couple.”

Phil was remembering this fondly, clearly having forgiven himself a long time ago.   “Also, because of his experience with me, he theoretically learned where his edge was, too. What he was capable of, and how he felt about that afterwards.”

“Ah,” I concluded.  “So by driving this guy to murder you provided a useful service.” 

Phil wasn’t nearly as sarcastic as he had been as a youth, but he still appreciated that quality in me.  “Obviously, now I would call someone who provoked an innocent person for his own amusement an immature sadist.  That’s not me anymore.” 

“So, now you’re someone who never provokes anybody?”

“Never provokes anyone?  No, that’s not me, either.  What do I look like – a Canadian?”

2 Comments »

Comment by Al Long
2008-01-19 06:35:46

I’m not sure I fully understand Edgeology, but I really enjoyed this blog entry.

Wouldn’t Phil also feel an empathy from context? For example, the “asshole” trying to pass might prompt the question, “Why is he/she trying to pass?” The obvious answer might be, “So he/she can shave off 3 seconds on their commute–maybe even while putting everyone on the road at great risk.” Still, that answer might also be someone in that car is suffering a heart attack–or maybe someone is in the early stages of childbirth. The same with the “moron” in front. Maybe he/she just received bad news and it’s weighing heavily on them–or maybe they’re some old person, alone in the this world, who can get by another couple weeks if they can just get some desperately-needed groceries and medicines. The movie Phil seemed to grow an empathy for those around him. Maybe it came from his days goading, abusing, or even experimenting with some of them. Maybe it came from kinder interactions. Wouldn’t he be more willing to give others, even those behind the wheel, the benefit of the doubt?

Here’s an unrelated question. How would “Groundhog Day” have changed had you written it a few years later when the Internet was so commonly available?

 
Comment by danny
2008-01-19 11:12:41

I guess I was exaggerating a point by using pejorative terms for people “not like me.” Without judging peoples’ motives or character, we can still differentiate among “me”, the person who comfortably drives a lot faster, and the person who comfortably drives a lot slower. Empathy can change how we feel about people not like us, but it doesn’t erase the edges. (Except when it does).

Much more on edgeology as we go.

 
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