The Lost Thought

29 Jan

THE LOST THOUGHT                              Waldo Tomosky 6/8/11


It was rather gloomy when I met him; one of those drizzly days that, at times, seemed to subside into a mist. I had been walking along a small brook looking for fresh leeks and morel mushrooms.

He was sitting under a tall white pine tree. His cloths were a mixture of browns and greens. These colors plus the mist and fog almost made him invisible.

I was already past him when he said “Hello.”

It was a soft “Hello.” The softness plus the mild tone did not cause me alarm. This feeling of ease occurred even though I expected to see no one in this dark remote forest.

“Hello” I echoed. I hoped it was as pleasant as his hello. I continued on with “What are you doing out here in the rain?”

“I don’t know” he responded. This was followed up by a “Maybe the same thing as you are.”

I asked him “Have you found any morels or leeks?”

“No. I am not looking for morels and leeks. Is that what you are doing?” He answered with a question. He spoke in a mild and non threatening manner.

“Yes, I am” said I. “But, then, what are you looking for?”

“A thought” he responded. “I am looking for a lost thought.”

Wishing to be empathetic I said “Yes, I know the feeling. When I need a new insight about a problem I often go into the woods and sit on the biggest log I can find. New ideas come to me.”

“No.” he said sadly. “I am not looking for a new thought. I am looking for a lost thought.”

My remark must have been harsh instead of empathetic. The man under the tree broke into tears.

I quickly offered an apology. “I’m sorry. I just did not understand what you were telling me. In fact I am still not quite sure what you are saying. You said ‘A lost thought’ as if it was really lost.”

The man confirmed my review of his statement with a simple “Yes.”

“We all lose our train of thought from time to time. Are you lost?” I questioned.

“No, that’s not it” he responded.

“I believe I am going to need some help with this” said I.

“Yes. I can see that this has not happened to you, this losing of a thought” he answered.

For some unknown reason we seemed to bond with just those few words spoken between us. He appeared comfortable with me and I had no reason to be concerned about this apparently sad gentleman. I spied a short log that remained from a previous timber cutting of those woods. I set down my basket which contained my finds; a few morels and two handfuls of leeks. The man remained quiet as I rolled the log over to where he was sitting. I offered him a cigarette and he accepted. I lit both his and mine. The smoke seemed to disappear into the fog and mist.

“Please explain your dilemma” I asked as I sat down on my wet log.

I expected an explanation that would take about the length of a cigarette. I planned to get on my search for mushrooms and wild onions as soon as he finished. But it was not after one cigarette. We finished the pack before he finished his story. I have never heard of anyone losing a thought the way he did. He explained it to me this way.

                                 ***   ***

“When I was a young man I loved the mountain streams and the woods. There was nothing more enjoyable than the solitude. Now don’t get me wrong. I was not a laggard. I enjoyed work also. Have you ever cut and split wood?”

Not waiting for my answer he continued.

“The streams and woods are great for refreshing your mind. But cutting and splitting wood is good for the soul. You are exhausted when you finish and there is a great sense of relief when it is done. Well – – – maybe it is not just relief – – – it is a feeling of relief and satisfaction that when combined – – – well, it just makes you feel good about yourself. Do you know what I am trying to say?”

Once again the question was rhetorical for he did not require an answer.

“Well, that was my life. Hunting, fishing, cutting wood and watching the wildlife. I didn’t require much more; even though I found it. What I found was a pretty blond girl that lived down the dirt road from me. She couldn’t have been more than sixteen. She was seven or eight years my junior. She seemed to enjoy watching me go into the woods or walk down the creek with my fishing pole. It was nice to have someone who cared about me. You see, I had been living alone since I was fourteen. Then one day this pretty blond girl finally spoke to me.”

“Hi” she said quite spritely.

“Hello to you also” I answered.

“We became friends and spoke quite often. She appeared to be quite interested in me and asked many questions regarding how I lived, what I ate, what I read and what the inside of my cabin looked like. The questions were easy to answer; well – – – all of them except what my cabin looked like inside. It was quite a mess and besides that you really can’t explain what your home looks like inside. You have to show people what it looks like. And I was not about to let her inside my cabin. It wasn’t just because it was a mess. There was something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was an uncomfortable feeling; almost a sense.”

“We saw each other very often and she would insist on bringing a book for me to read. Hell, I couldn’t read. Even if I could I wouldn’t. Why would I waste my time trying to assemble letters into words only to be forced to assemble words into sentences? After that I would have to put it all together to form a thought. Why would I do all that when I had the woods, the stream and my logs to split?”

“Once she realized that I was not going to accept her books she started working on my appearance. First it was my fingernails. She said they were “filthy” and started cleaning them with the little blade on my pocketknife. She would do this a few times a day. Then it was my pants. She would always notice the little things like rabbit blood or fish mucous. Where was a man to wipe his hands, other than on his pants? Then she started on how I lived. She insisted that there were good things to purchase in the farmers’ market. Now I ask you, how was I to buy anything without money? I had no money. I had no need for money. Everything I needed was in the woods, along a stream or in my cabin. I had more food growing wild than I could ever eat. She seemed real anxious to get into my cabin but I put a quick stop to that notion.”

“Then it happened!” said the man as I sat there on that log listening to his story. Again, he didn’t even wait for me to ask the obligatory “what happened?”

“The little blond girl stopped speaking to me. I lost her because of my stubbornness. I am not sure why I did the following; I just did it. I started cleaning my own fingernails. I washed my pants more often; and my shirt also. When I had clean fingernails and clothes a good feeling came upon me. You know, – – – the same feeling that I got after I cut and split a cord of wood. I figured if I got cleaned up and then split wood I would feel twice as good. However, once I finished cutting wood my fingernails and clothes were filthy again. So I never felt twice as good.”

“The little blond girl was lost. It was not a complete loss because she had taught me things. I could get cleaned up and go to the farmers’ market. At first I just looked because I had no money. There were good things displayed on the back of the trucks; apples so big I could never have imagined it, big leaks that they called scallions, and squash of all sizes and colors. I sure wanted to try some of the food that was displayed but I had no money. As I was leaving the market I noticed one man selling wild leeks. ‘I could do that’ said I to myself.”

The sad man stopped telling his story and asked if he might have another cigarette. I shook one half way out of the pack and offered it to him. We lit up and smoked a bit before he continued his story.

“Well – – – the following week I sold some leaks and bought some apples. This continued on for some time. I found out that the folks at the market liked sassafras and ginseng root. One lady even asked if I could find her some bloodroot. How was she to know that I already had some growing beside my cabin. I became a regular trader and found out that I enjoyed the fruits and vegetables that were sold at the market. Sometimes I even had money left over from my sales. The farmers’ market took place in parking lot of a small library. The people told me the library was full of books. I could not imagine why anyone would want to fill up a perfectly good house with books. What a waste!”

“A few weeks later I was talking to the lady that bought my bloodroot. I wanted to know what she did with it. She told me that she colored her clothes with it. I asked her where she learned how to do that and she told me ‘In the library.’ ‘They color clothes in the library?’ I asked. She said ‘No silly; they have books that tell how to do it. They have books that tell how to do everything.’ After several months of weekly visits to the market my curiosity got the better of me. I went into the library.”

The sad story teller carefully put the stub of his cigarette on the forest floor and crushed it with the heel of his boot. I did the same.

“I walked around in awe of all the books. It seemed to me that if each book taught something then the whole world must be in this library. I knew that the whole world was outside of this building yet the whole world was inside this building. The library lady must have been watching me as I turned around in circles. She walked up to me and asked ‘Are you all right?’ I told her that I was. Being at a loss for words and somewhat embarrassed I asked if she knew where the book on bloodroot dying was. She took me to a big closet full of little drawers, each filled with little cards. She thumbed through the cards and said ‘B7.’ I had no idea what she was talking about. She must have known it. She took my hand and led me to a shelf marked ‘B7.’ Realizing my problem she searched for the book and handed it to me. When she walked away I started looking at the pictures. Sure enough, right there on the pages were drawings of bloodroot and wash tubs. I went to find the lady so she could explain what all the letters on the page meant. She realized that I could not read and offered to teach me. I accepted.”

“It was not long before I had a handle on this reading stuff. And that is when my problem started.”

The sad man broke into uncontrollable sobbing. It was painful for me to see. I turned my head away from him and made believe that I was watching something else. After a short time he was able to control himself and became quiet. I told him that I had seen a grey fox and was watching it. He knew it was a lie and said “That’s OK. I do this all the time. I don’t think I am as embarrassed as the people who are subject to my sobbing. I am so sorry for having put you ill at ease.” He continued with the story.

“I learned to read; first it was learning books, then small stories with pictures and finally I could read the bloodroot book. I had no interest in the process of bloodroot dying but was proud to be able to finish the book. There were other books with stories about far places and even one about a boy on a pilgrimage and how he met forty thieves.”

“Then one day I was sitting on my homemade log chair in front of my cabin. It was then that it happened. I was reviewing, in my mind, a story I had read about a flying carpet. AN ORIGINAL THOUGHT ENTERED MY MIND. It was unbelievable. I had a thought. It was something that my mind came up with all by itself. It wasn’t from a book or anything that someone had told me about. It was MY OWN THOUGHT, MY OWN ORIGINAL THOUGHT. I thought about that thought all day and into the night. I could hardly sleep. Finally, as the whippoorwill repeated his lullaby, I dozed off.”

Again the sad man broke into tears. However, he controlled himself in a shorter time than the previous episode of sobbing. With a look of bewilderment he continued his tale.

“I awoke in the morning to the trill of a warbler. It was a nice morning yet something was hounding me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I rose from bed and washed my face in the motley blue glazed steel bowl. As I dried my face it came to me. YES! I had an ORIGINAL thought yesterday. What was it? I scoured my mind knowing that it would show up; but it didn’t. I tried all morning to remember what I had thought. IT WAS GONE! GONE! The only original thought that I ever had was gone. I HAD LOST MY ORIGINAL THOUGHT.”

“I knew that the blond girl had been lost due to my stubbornness. However, I had no idea why I lost my thought. It was perplexing. I should have written it down. If only I could write well. My penmanship was so horrible that no one could read it; not even me.”

“I thought about the blond girl that had indirectly introduced me to the market place and books. I decided that this was not a bad thing. Maybe I could recall my lost thought if I read more. All of my spare time was spent in the library. The nice librarian introduced me to a local school teacher. I was finally able to proceed on my own. I learned about museums, large city libraries, the educated men in churches and universities, and the library of congress. I set out to meet the world. With enough knowledge I would be able to find my lost thought.”

The sad man stopped his story at that point. I offered him a smoke and took one myself. The drizzle had stopped and we no longer had to cup the cigarettes in our hands to keep them dry. As we sat there quietly he sobbed once or twice. It wasn’t really a sob. It was more of a quick draw of air as if he was attempting to catch a breath. It was a hidden sob. I knew because I had done this myself as I was overcoming a sad thought. The man had more to tell me.

“My visits to various museums were very interesting but my original thought remained lost. Then one day a museum docent was leading a group of us around. She was speaking about the central and southern American Indians and the locations where they had lived. She informed us that the Spanish word for corn ‘MAIZE’ would be of assistance. ‘M’ was the northern most tribe; the Maya. ‘A’ would represent the central tribe; the Aztecs. Finally the ‘I’ would remind us of the southern tribes; the Incas. MAIZE would help us remember the series Maya, Aztec, Inca, (Zapotecs being the Exception).”

“’That’s it’ I hollered out loud. ‘That is my original thought. I can remember things if I put them into one of those things that help us remember.’ The docent looked at me as if I were a little loony. She asked ‘Do you mean an acronym?’ As soon as she said it I realized the disaster in my present thought; if this was my original thought then I could not lay claim to it. I had never heard the word ‘acronym’ before so how could that be my lost thought? It was close but apparently my original thought had to remain lost. I was deeply disappointed.”

“I continued my museum visits but soon realized that anything that was in a museum was not original. Everything had existed before. That was why it was a museum. There were models of cave dwellers, trains, bridges, climate changes, airplanes, Indian villages, canal boats, catacombs, baseball fields and paraphernalia. I have to admit there were a few original things such as arrowheads, Indian pottery, stuffed bustards, penguins, and wolverines. Still, all of these things existed well before my original thought; which was now lost. My museum visits were educational but not productive for my quest. I abandoned them.”

I asked the sad man “How many museums did you visit?”

“Countless ones, countless” he replied. He continued speaking apparently hoping that I would be counting. “Roberson in Binghamton, Canal in Syracuse, Nayaug in Scranton, Museum of Torture in Germany, Auschwitz also in Germany, Baseball in Cooperstown, Natural History in Washington, Salt in Salzburg” and then he abruptly stopped when he saw that I was not counting. “You have to realize when visiting a museum that there is nothing original to be seen. There is a lot to be learned but nothing brand new. That is the lot that museums have been burdened with. Now churches, there is something new to be learned in churches every day.”

With that the sad man appeared to have his spirits lifted. He stood up and walked around a little bit. As he neared my basket he lifted it up and peered inside. “Nice meal for tonight?” he asked.

I responded that it was my plan to have them that night along with a tender calf liver and bacon. He smacked his lips but said nothing. He took his place beneath the pine tree and went on with the story of his lost thought.

“I attended various Christian churches both on Sundays and Holy Days. There was something new to be learned in every attendance. There were the beliefs of the Catholics, the beliefs of the Pentecostals, those of the Baptists, the Russian Orthodox, the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Orthodox of the Greek persuasion – – – well – – – you can see where I am leading with this. There were as many beliefs as there were religions. How did that happen? All from one philosophy and chopped into enough fragments to fill a – – – can I say this with candor? – – – a synagogue or a mosque. All these new ideas, all originating from the same facts. Some denominations even changed their minds half way through their history. I can see why man is confused. I thought that I was learning new ideas. Well, they were new to me but hardly new. They had been sliced and diced, modified, twisted, re-worded and stretched beyond belief. There was even St. Christopher who had been reduced to Mr. Christopher for some reason or other. What was one to believe? Is there an original thought remaining in these organized religions? I remained hopeful and continued attending the variety.”

“Then one day I heard a minister give the accepted explanation of the Trinity. I hollered out loud in church ‘That’s it. THAT IS MY LOST THOUGHT. The Trinity.’ As soon as I realized that everyone had turned around to see who was shouting in church, I shut up. The minister caught me by the shoulder after mass. He asked what I knew about the Trinity. I told him ‘The Father is God who is somewhere in the universe. If he isn’t God then the one who came before him must be God – – – or the one before him. Somewhere there is an original. The Son is Jesus whose miracles and philosophy we read in the scriptures, and the Holy Ghost is also God. The Holy Ghost resides in our minds and that is why God is always with us and knows everything we do.’ The minister informed me that this idea has been around for quite a while and therefore was not very original.”

“My lost thought remained lost.”

“I was very disappointed in everything and returned to my origins; the cabin. The pretty blonde girl still lived nearby. She had put on a few pounds and was ruddy faced. I said hello to her a few times but she simply nodded and gathered her three children at her feet. The librarian and school teacher both heard that I was living in the cabin and waited for me to show up at the farmers’ market. I had earned money by giving lectures on street corners in the large cities that I had visited. People liked to listen to me and comment on my straw hat, denim coveralls and bare feet. I was some type of attraction to them.  I had brought home a good supply of money but did not need to visit the market. I lived off the land and returned to an almost sane condition.”

“One day, quite unexpectedly, the school teacher dropped by. She had a surprise for me. She told me that she and the librarian had put together a letter. The letter depicted my ability to easily learn new subjects. That was not a lie. I was quick at learning. She had sent the letter to the state university and I had been invited to attend an orientation and financial assistance session. I went, I filled out the papers and I was accepted! What a great moment for me. I had planned to re-familiarize myself with the way of the woods and streams but here I was going to college. It was a bittersweet summer. I enjoyed the required remedial reading and math. It was almost as much fun as fishing and picking ginseng.”

“The money I had saved from my street lectures was put to good use for books. The teacher’s and librarian’s recommendations plus the financial aid had made me eligible for grants and stipends. I was a lucky fellow. Even my dorm room and meal plan was paid for. I had developed quite a nice background on how life worked but my reading and math skills needed a little help. I was assigned to some remedial classes for the first semester. The second semester was filled with a full line of three and four credit courses.”

“I read everything and completed all the exercises assigned to me. My professors seemed to be pleased with my progress. My only problem was that deep down inside me I had hoped to generate an inspiration. If that inspiration was deep enough I might be able to remember my lost thought. This was always in the back of my mind. I let my inspiration go wild and included my own self into my papers. This did not work out very well. Several professors told me that I needed to concentrate on writing my papers strictly to the subject material. I thought that I was doing that and did not understand what they were looking for.”

“One evening when I had finished doing the reading assignment I was struck with a feeling of creativity. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on or bring an original thought to. It was simply a strong feeling that I was on the edge of something big. I sat down and started writing the paper that was to complement the reading assignment. The words flowed like the fast water in my favorite trout stream. Nothing could stop the words. When I was finished I sat back and re-read the paper to see if my original thought was hidden somewhere inside all those words. If it was, I couldn’t find it. Maybe the professor will find it and draw a big circle around it with his words ‘Nice original creative thought.’”

“When I received the paper back all that was written on it was ‘Don’t get too creative with the subject material. Learn the basic subject first and then you will become original.’”

“That is the way my whole college experience went. ‘Stick to the assignment.’ or  ‘There will be time for creativity in your senior year.’ and ‘You have a promising background for graduate work; but learn the basic material.’ plus ‘Your masters’ thesis should surround the research area that you study under me.’ finally ‘You will have plenty of time to select an original thesis for your doctoral work.’”

“Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Masters, Doctoral – – – it continued on with no opportunity to find my original thought. It was surely a lost cause. Finally, after I had received my hood and doctorate, I realized that I had lost all my creativity. I knew that I would never find my lost thought in a collegiate atmosphere.”

“It was the end of the depression. World War 2 was in full swing. I not only lost my thought, I also lost my college deferment from the selective service draft board. I was inducted into the Army, spent a few months in boot camp and ended up in the First Army Headquarters based on Governors Island outside of New York City. If I thought there was no room for original thought in college then there was absolutely no hope for it in the U. S. Army. There I sat, hour after hour, sorting through induction orders trying to place a wide range of people into very specific jobs. Talk about putting square pegs into round holes. There was not enough time to give any thought to where Johnny would be most productive. ‘Just put him somewhere’ my commanding officer said. ‘Just shuffle them around until they fall into any available slot’ he admonished. I felt so guilty about the whole thing that I needed to visit the chaplain’s office several times each month.”

The drizzle started up again and the sad man stopped his story to check the cloud pattern in the sky. We lit up another smoke. Then he continued;

“By the end of the war the chaplain and I had become good friends. I had told him about my lost thought and the time that I had seen the meaning of the Trinity. I asked him if my thoughts of the Trinity were original and he said ‘Sadly they are not. Your lost thought must be about another subject.’ He then informed me that even though someone else had defined the meaning of the Trinity my thoughts had been original to me. In fact he told me that I must have some unique type of intelligence because I was able to think about the Trinity and finish my doctoral degree. He then suggested that I look into joining the church as a Jesuit priest. ‘With your educational background and logic you would be more than welcome. And so; I left the U.S. Army without finding my lost thought. However, I had been given a new path and opportunity to find it.”

“My hopes were elevated. The Jesuits founded by St. Ignatius Loyola believed in a regimen of spiritual exercises. These exercises involved the mind, memory, will and imagination. This had to be what I was seeking. The Jesuits had founded thousands of schools, colleges and universities. In addition to education they also believed in exercising the mind, training the memory, strengthening the will and training yourself to be imaginative, creative and to seek original thoughts. I surely would find my lost thought in the Jesuit organization. I joined.”

“It was my good fortune to find that the spiritual exercises would come early in my indoctrination into the Jesuit Society. The only thing that came prior to the exercises was learning the history of St. Ignatius and the Society of Jesus. To my great surprise I learned that there were several conspiracy theories about the Jesuits. Many of them centered on their banking system and their involvement with the natives of all three Americas; North, Central and South.”

“One man’s attempt to fill a void is another man’s conspiracy. In the New World one void was the inability to borrow money for new construction such as homes, academies and public buildings. The Jesuits formed a banking system to fill this void. As a result they were accused of trying to fill the coffers of the Catholic Church at the expense of others. The other void was the perceived lack of education within the Native American Communities. Surely the Jesuits could fill this void also. The perception was the opposite. It was deemed that the Jesuits were forcing their God upon the Native Americans.”

“The Spiritual Exercises were a sort of retreat. We isolated ourselves with a senior Jesuit mentor for a period of one month. The purpose of the first exercise was to examine sin, both generic and those specific to ourselves. We would then find parallels between our lives and the life of Jesus. Once that was complete we were taught how to make a commitment to the practices of Jesus. It was only then that we were told that this process would be repeated throughout our first year of Jesuit training. We also learned that we were to carry out these exercises for the remainder of our lives; however, without the seclusion of a retreat.”

“There were several exercises of prayer while contemplating the Passion and Resurrection. Each novice Jesuit was required to enter into a discussion with the mentor, or spiritual leader if you so choose that label, to determine what his thoughts and emotions were while undergoing the exercises. This process was repeated for several exercises. The entire novice population of Jesuits agreed that this review of our spiritual being would be with us for the rest of our lives.”

“The thing that I found, but was not looking for, while doing the exercises was the amount of time we spent thinking about how the world works and especially how humanity has evolved within this natural world. Man has a relationship to God that can be found through these exercises of studying the life of Jesus.”

The man appeared so happy about this life with the Jesuits that I could not believe that this was the sad man. I broke into the middle of his story by asking “and yet, here you are, sitting in the middle of the woods; apparently unfulfilled. How could that be?”

The sad man looked me straight in the eye, shrugged his shoulders and tipped his head to the side as if to say “It is just one of those things.” And then he continued on.

“Remember the conspiracies that I mentioned? I was sure that these stories were the result of late eighteenth and nineteenth century problems with the Freemasons. However, it became apparent that even the Spanish Inquisition had problems with the Jesuits. This was followed by problems with the reformationists. Popular anti-Jesuit thinking in France was fired by several books; both academic and novel. Germany, from the 1870’s until the early 1900’s, required the Jesuits to disband and desist from engaging in their practices. Even the Nazi regime treated the Jesuits with disdain and loathing.”

“I suppose that I was influenced in the wrong direction by the stories of these conspiracies. I begin to wonder if every elitist across Europe could be wrong about the Jesuits. Was there something within the society that made them so hated? Surely it could be jealousy if nothing else. But the society did appear to have secrets even when there was nothing to hide. They were an elite group of men and surely human nature does not allow one group of elites to live harmoniously with other groups of elites. That was the basis of war. Then again, within such a group of learned men that made up the society there indeed had to be a substantial amount of arrogance. This may have been the cause even though the spiritual exercises attempted to make the novice Jesuit aware of the pitfalls of arrogance. Was the society perceived as arrogant?”

“Eventually my enthusiasm for the Jesuit life waned. I had learned much and was slated to become a professor within the society. But the structure of the Jesuit life, even though enlightening, seemed to keep me from creating original thoughts. It finally dawned on me that I would not recover my LOST ORIGINAL THOUGHT in that environment. I was asked to stay on. When they finally realized that I was seeking something previously lost they decided to cut their own loses. I was removed from the society.”

With his life in the Jesuit order fully described the man asked me to wait for a minute. He said that he would be return immediately. I watched him as he stood up and walked down the small stream for a distance of a hundred feet or so. When he reached the place where a tiny spring fed into the stream he turned and walked along a short path. He lifted the large flat stone that covered the spring and removed something. Returning in a minute, just as promised, he held two cold bottles of beer. He offered me one and I accepted it with gratitude.

I took a few sips from the green long-neck bottle and waited for the sad man to continue. He did not disappoint me. This time he appeared much more exuberant about his search for the lost thought.

“I was running out of options; however, this did not make me give up the quest for my lost original thought. I knew where most original thoughts occurred. It was in the research; the laboratories of the scientific world. I applied for several premier jobs. I landed my first choice at a government owned laboratory on Long Island.”

“It was a very nice facility. The research scientists were more of a community than a laboratory. They even issued a periodical that included the stories and faces of some scientists. The people featured had important events or breakthroughs in their area of research. The periodical had a classified section where the scientists could advertise cars, property or anything they wished. Everyone got along so well that it was hard to believe that they were competing with each other for grants.”

“I worked there for over two years. The PhD that I worked for was very gifted. He was the director of our large project. His assistants were ambitious and quite intelligent. The assistants had PhDs and Masters Degrees so it surprised me when I found out that they were working for very low wages. It was said that the director had a very comfortable salary plus he was encouraged to take outside consulting jobs. He also supplemented his income by being a hired gun for law suits in his field.”

“I became friends with the secretary of the department and found out that the money that supported the department’s work was totally from grants. I had believed that the Gates Foundation may be funding this work. However, I was surprised to find that the majority of it came from grants funded by the US Government and the New York State Research Foundation.”

“The director’s application for grants had to identify the number of research support specialists, the quantity of administrative hours and the equipment needed to conduct the research. It was all very open and transparent to anyone who wished to see the grant application.”

“At the end of my second year at the lab I realized that the other research assistants and I were working way to much overtime. Of course we were not getting paid for the extra hours. We were exempt from the New York’s state laws regarding overtime. I asked the secretary if I could see the grant application and acceptance papers. She was more than pleased to let me peruse them. What I saw surprised me. The grant money more than covered our wages and hours. It also covered EIGHT high grade workstation computers. There was money for leasing hours on a super computer. However we only had SIX workstation computers and WERE NOT allowed to use the supercomputer facilities for our work. Where was the money going?”

“I spoke to a few of my research associate friends and was advised not to worry about it. They said ‘This is typical of any project supported by grants.’ I could hardly believe that. What was the point of going through the grant process if the participants were not going to abide by the rules? Sure enough that was the story. After talking to a few other research assistants in other departments it became clear that this is how business is done. I was advised to avoid pursuing the path that I was on. ‘You will only destroy yourself. You will become a marked man. You will never work in another research facility for the remainder of your life.’ I could not believe that those words could possibly be true.”

“Then the crowning glory of all my suspicions appeared. A very promising grant was sent out by the state for advisory work. The advisory work was to include technical advice, human resource advice, and a post-mortem on the project after it was completed. Additionally, the grant required suggestions on the future staffing levels the state department issuing the grant.”

“So there it was, bare faced and right in front of me. A department within the State of New York was giving a grant to any research entity that could advise it on how to do its job and how to manage its people. Unbelievably, the grant also was asking the researching organization to judge the results of its own work. Talk about the fox watching the chickens! To top it all off, the research group was to advise the state department about its staffing levels. Even the dumbest research assistant knew what that answer would be. SURE, HIRE MORE STATE WORKERS. THE DEPARTMENT IS UNDERSTAFFED.”

“It was a grant to not only do the state department’s job but also to advise them to hire more people. What a grant country.”

“I departed the Long Island Laboratory when I saw that the missing computers had been located on state university campuses across New York. They were not located in research facilities but rather in the dorm rooms of students whose fathers were the directors of various departments in the laboratory.”

“I had reached another dead end in finding my original lost thought. How could anything be original in a world of corruption? Impossible!”

The sad man put his head in his hands and wept bitterly. Once more I felt ashamed simply because I watched this man in the agony of his lost thought. As he wept I attempted, in my own mind, to come up with a solution to help him in his plight. The more I thought about it the more I realized that he had done more to help himself than I ever could have imagined. He had persistently and with great forethought made several attempts to find his lost thought. In light of this I simply sat there on my damp log and waited for the continuance of his story.

“I had read books, visited libraries, wandered in museums, attended churches, graduated from college, joined the Jesuits and worked in research organizations. Yet none of these pursuits aided in finding my lost original thought. My whole search seemed fruitless. What was I overlooking? There had to be some way for me to recall my original lost thought. Possibly there was an answer in the old saying ‘Fight fire with fire.’ However, how could I find original thought by forgetting about thoughts; or not thinking thoughts; or thinking negatively about thoughts; or thinking about nothing? Was I thinking about nihilism; the belief in nothing? Did traditional values really matter? Did I spend too much time flirting with religion and objectivity? Had morality hidden truths that I may have overlooked? Did the social organizations of church, school and science form untruths that humanity had been erroneously pursuing? Was suicide the final and singular answer in the quest for my original lost thought? How was I to exit this maze and solve this labyrinthine puzzle?”

“Possibly I had failed prior to my original thought. I would not have had the thought if I had not met the blond girl. If I had not met her I would not have washed my clothes and cleaned my fingernails. I would not have gone to the market. I would not have wandered into the library. I would have not read a book. WAS THAT IT? Was it the blond girl that I paid no attention to? Maybe I should have taken her as a lover. That would have ended my quest before I ever had an original thought. That does not make sense yet it does make sense.”

“Therefore, with these thoughts, I decided to try unique methods that would attack the problem on a bias instead of head on. I would fight fire with fire. I would not think. I would not delve. I would not conceive new thoughts, I would not reason, meditate, surmise, conclude, ponder, reflect or deem. I would be satisfied with reading old thoughts. I would bury myself in things that were not original, not on the cutting edge, things that surely had been reviewed, discussed and been worn out by the vagaries of time. I would not be fooled by the imposters of unfounded thoughts.”

“Where was I to start on this abandonment of thought, this interpretation of nothing? Where was I to start?”

“Before the advent of religion – – – – – that was the only place to start. But where does religion begin? My life experiences taught me that they began with the life of Christ. Therefore I must start before that. But then there was Judaism, Abraham and Christ’s predecessors.

I decided to start by reading the dialogues conducted by Socrates. Back to the libraries I went. I searched for the clearest books that I could find on the subject. I read them all from beginning to end. With this completed I retreated to my simple life in the cabin.”

“As I walked in the woods the dialogues appeared. They turned over and over in my mind. I don’t mean all the dialogues; just snippets of one dialogue or another. The dialogue between Socrates and Ion seemed to be my favorite. I believe this was because the conversation centered about the subject of inspiration.

Socrates really worked Ion over on the subject. He questioned Ion six ways from Sunday on what Ion felt when he performed his rhapsodies. ‘Was it the feeling of an artisan or that of being drawn into another world? Did Ion become a general when he rhapsodized about war? Did he become a charioteer when he rhapsodized about equine racing? Could a charioteer rhapsodize as well as Ion did?’

“The dialogue was intense and could have many meanings. The subject of Inspiration haunted me. Is that what I felt when I had my original lost thought? I believe that Inspiration was what I had been searching for all these years. Maybe I had assembled an Inspirational metaphor. Do metaphors appear like a bolt of lightening or are they assembled as various thoughts are scrambled in the mind? One of the metaphors that Socrates imparted to Ion could be the answer.”

“Socrates had described the nature of Inspiration to be similar to a magnetic rock. He said that the rock had the ability to pick up an iron ring. The rock was the original inspiration and the ring was like Ion being inspired. Ion was not the originator of the stories that he rhapsodized; Homer was. Homer had originated the stories and Ion became inspired by them. So much so that he was drawn into the stories as he rhapsodized.

Ion was not a general or anyone else in the story even though he felt that he may have been. Ion was supremely inspired as he rhapsodized; so inspired that he would believe that he was an actual general. The original thought was not Ion’s even though he felt that it may have been. Is that what had happened to me? Was I somehow inspired by what I had read in a book and now believed that I had an original thought? God, I hoped not.”

“Socrates pointed out that the ring that dangled from the magnetic rock could also become inspiring. This could result in another ring dangling from the first ring.

The magnetic rock remains the original inspiration. However, the first ring is supremely inspired and has added new depth and meaning to the original idea. This inspiration has modified and added to the original thought. Socrates points out that this allows the first ring to draw another ring to itself.

Socrates asks Ion if he has ever seen any of his audience cry or laugh. Ion answers “Yes” and then realizes that he has inspired the audience. Ion has become the first ring and the emotional listener has become the second ring. This sequence could go on infinitum until the original thought is no longer recognized; and sometimes no longer inspiring.”

“Socrates also points out to Ion that his gift was an inspiration and not a skill. Ion’s rhapsodizing of Homer’s stories did not make Ion skilled in what he spoke about. It was an inspiration that carried Ion away; a divinity. The ultimate inspiration is drawn from the magnetic stone; Euripides stone of Heraclea, the metaphor. The ultimate inspiration comes from the gods.

The original thought carries so much inspiration that it holds a long chain of rings to itself. Therefore men do not create art because they are artisans. They create art because they are inspired. Physicians heal people because they are artisans; they practice their art.”

It was getting to be late in the afternoon and a cool breeze could be felt. The sad man was quiet for a minute or two before he continued his story.

“I wish that Socrates’ insights would have explained it all. However, they did not. I still wanted to search for my original thought. I was driven to search even though my original thought may not have been an inspired; even though it may not have been as original as I thought. Earlier today, as I sat here under this pine tree, I remembered a discussion that Socrates had with Meno.

It was a discussion regarding mimesis; the mimicking of things that had existed previously. The dialogue between Socrates and Meno took on the connotation of the Idea; the original thing. I think of it in simpler terms. An Idea is what happens when original man sat on the ground and placed his food on a rock next to where he sat. The rock is the original Idea for a table. An observer sees this and is inspired to make a table from a wooden slab. A second observer adds legs to the table and the mimeses has modified the original Idea into unrecognizable form. The Idea starts and the chain of magnetic rings begins.”

“Where did the original Idea come from? A muse? The Gods? Why did original man put his food on the rock table? Is there instinct born into us? A hound has the instinct to track rabbits. Is there some instinct that creates the Idea?

One of Socrates dialogues speaks of how an uneducated slave. How did he correctly answer a difficult puzzle of geometry. How does the slave do it? Does he have an instinct of geometry? Did he carry this from a previous life? Is he is now oblivious to that previous life?”

“This morning, right under this pine tree, all those thoughts came rushing back. It was only then that I became horrified about my quest. Even if I thought that I had an original thought, and lost it, the thought could not have been original. It must have been a mimesis created from something I saw in the library. It was not an Idea in its original sense. It was a result of my own conceit that I viewed this lost mimesis as my own essence; an original and lost thought.”

“What had I done? I had spent my life chasing other people’s dreams. The libraries, museums, institutions of learning; was all of it a wasted life? I would have been better off not meeting that little blond girl. I could have lived in the woods. Maybe that was an original Idea, an instinct, a drive caused by a previous life; living as a woodsman.

At that moment I knew that I never had an original thought. In fact no one in this post-modern world has an original thought. Thoughts are a mimesis of our world as we represent it to ourselves. What had I done? What had I done?”

Again the sad man burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably. I let the emotion subside before I gave him a thought of my own. Surely my thought was not original either. However, it was the best thought I could offer at the time. I finally broke into his story to add my own viewpoint.

“’Listen, nothing has been lost, nothing has been wasted. Do you realize how many people you have inspired with your thoughts? You moved the teacher and the librarian to write letters of support for your college education. You inspired the museum docents with your blurted-out thoughts. The priests surely must have gone back to the rectory to contemplate the questions that you asked. The Jesuits, although controlled by idealism, learned some truths about their own history. Some of the researchers in the scientific world must be questioning the morality of self-serving grants. Even the little blond girl must realize that she pushed a little too hard to get into your cabin. The people that heard your straw hat, bare footed, street corner rhapsodies would not have listened if they were not learning something. All of these people were the chain of iron rings that dangled from your inspiration. All these people, indeed, must have inspired other people. You may not have been Euripides’ stone of Heraclea but you have created a substantial chain of rings in your lifetime.’”

With that said the man stood up. He appeared happier than I had seen him all day. He had a new inspiration and this inspiration inspired me. I was also happier than I had been all day. The sad man was once again acting as a magnetized ring. This must have been his original lost purpose, his Inspiration – – – – if not his original lost thought. He walked off into the misty woods. We never met again.

The end of “The Lost Thought”

    • © Copyright – Waldo Tomosky


2 Responses to “The Lost Thought”

  1. Vania Shuler February 5, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    IF you’re still on the fence for more posts, sign me up!

    • Waldo "Wally" Tomosky February 13, 2012 at 12:07 am #

      Hi Vania, I am no longer on the fence. I plan on starting a brand new set of postings in mid-march. Some will be on “Short Stories of Waldo” and others on “This, That and The Other Thing.” I don’t know if you have seen “Adirondack Images and Tales.” They are a little different; based on vintage images from over a hundred years ago (Adirondack Mountains of New York State) each image having a little tale from Tahauwas; an Abenaki Native American. There is a lot hisnkstory to be viewed on that blog. THanks Vania for the encouragement. I hope you are following my three blogs. Thanks for reading them. Wally

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