For Robert Pirsig

by Jim Farrar (1987)

He was unsure. He'd arrived at an impasse and it had frightened him because it punctured his thoughts with confusion.

He'd become obsessed with a single question. What scared him so was that it seemed so immense, so unanswerable. It was a question whose answers bred only more questions.

His colleagues had chosen to ignore the riddle and had thus saved themselves. At first, this refusal by his friends to even acknowledge the existence of the question had seemed like a colossal failure of nerve on their part. He was a truth-seeker, which meant he was driven by forces the others could simply not perceive. And it was a lack of perception on his part that had initially caused his own failure to recognize this fact.

So they had misunderstood one another. As a result, he had fallen from grace. They said he was insane.

But the truth remains the truth. And he had to deal with the riddle, which was the riddle of existence itself. Time had become the most important factor in his quest; he was only human, if he was to answer it he would have to do it before he died.

Problem was, the question seemed to elude itself by its very nature. It was of a large scope, and his mortality made it loom even larger. When he'd first encountered it, it'd seemed simple enough. But then he realized that the answers he had first given it had seemed surprisingly surperfluous and incomplete. The mystery remained.

This was, and still is, the riddle: What is important? And the riddle had a sister, which was this: What is the meaning of life? The question had been asked so often, and with such feeble results, that it had become trite. What perplexed him was that his own answers had seemed so redundant, so prosaic. He couldn't understand how history had failed to gain any insight. An age-old question still unanswered. And it was such an important question. He couldn't help but think that it was the focal point of all religion, philosophy, art, and even the underlying principle of knowledge itself.

The Answer, when he found it, would prove to be the Ultimate Truth itself. The Life Force, and the secret of It. It was an attempt to take what was apparently meaningless and make sense out of it. His own life provided the example. What is important? What makes it worth living? Answer one, and you can surely answer the other, he thought. You have to know what is important before you can ask why.

And so he floundered. He knew that time was important. Time was truly a possession, albeit an abstract and intangible possession. Humanity defines itself by time. A man's age.

The eight hour workday. History itself. But it ran much deeper than that, he could feel it. He felt as if he were describing the question, rather than answering it.

What is important? He became despondent, irritable. He had few friends, and now he demanded understanding and pity from them without even telling them why he was so unhappy. It was a selfish thing to do, and it cost him dearly, for his friends soon left him. They had left, not out of spite, but because his black moods had made him seem distant and detached and unfeeling. He had created an abyss and had succeeded only in isolating himself. He wept from time to time, but he never could explain his unhappiness.

Finally, he gave up. He rented a boat one day and sailed upon the open ocean. He never did return. At the time, he thought it would be a symbolic ending to a frustrated journey. He was right.

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