--when you realize your high school education failed you and you're luckier for it.
In my case, I didn't "have to read for class" a great many classics: Slaughterhouse-Five, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Great Gatsby... What in the world did I read in high school?
But side-stepping that indicting question, I just finished Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, a marvelous little book about an intellectual kid growing up in 1940s-50s era New York searching for whatever it means to live a genuine life. Though I'm not sure old Holden Caulfield realizes it, even by the end.
There's a scene in which H is talking to his kid sister Phoebe. She's asked him does he like anything at all, and he can't concentrate on answering because he's thinking of a boy who committed suicide--jumped out a window to escape bullying, to keep from giving in to bullying, really. And the scene, coupled with a line from the next chapter, a quote from Wilhelm Stekel about living and dying... it got me thinking.
About bullies, for one, who've been around for ages and ages. And about kids, who've been around just as long. And about the fact that everybody out there is trying to find out what it means to live a genuine life. Especially in this age when everything's so excruciatingly temporary, finding an "identity" can get a little hairy. And it's hard to find out who you are and how you fit in when you're focused only on you. 'Cause then there's no context for you, and things get pretty ambiguous without context.
So it's only when H sets himself aside and watches P go round and round the carousel--when he stops thinking about those hard questions and just lets the world be--that he sort of settles in.
I guess it's harder when the world is so linked to us, all personalized and networked, that we can't really set ourselves aside even for a minute. But I wonder if living genuinely has to do with those moments when the world is too darn big and wonderful to think that we or even our biggest problems could be the center of it.