Logically, it makes sense that some things have remained the same about human nature. There will always be smile lines and interlocked hands and scraps of poetry to digest and artfully regurgitate. But to be aware that bits of you are some eons old is the kind of quiet realization that makes you want to write on a Tuesday evening, even when the words aren’t yet ripe for the picking.
You must imagine the laughter that ensued in the Academy, my professor says, when Aristotle made this facetious argument. I imagine it: peals of joy, canons of hilarity redoubling amongst a crowd of students. The acoustics must have been different–they didn’t have our hardwood floors, after all, nor the cracked-open windows letting in the distinctly industrial sounds of construction. They surely did not have the scratch of pencil lead nor the fwips of textbook pages, but they might have had the chilled warmth of autumn dancing across the back of their necks, the lilt of familiarity at the end of their words that conveyed just the right amount of teasing for the joke to hit home. And of course they had laughter. Puffs of breath intermingling in this shared space. Soft echoes of it under their breaths when they were dismissed from class, still repeating the joke with their friends.
What I find is: it is not so hard to imagine such things if you are a deeply sentimental person. I have been told my entire life that I am too sensitive at my core, with a reprimanding tone that suggests I resemble a turtle with a particularly soft underbelly. The real world, they say, will eat you alive. It is time for you to confront the gaps in your armor.
Here is what I know about strength as the Romans saw it: Scaevolus sticking his left hand into the fire and refusing to scream while the flames licked at his bone. Lucretia sinking a blade into her stomach so the people could know what her true wounds were. Brutus executing his sons, stoic and placid as if he did not recognize them, as if they did not share the same blood, as if he could not feel the loss like his own death. So let me die, Agrippina said to the prophet, as long as my son becomes emperor. When she discovered who sent her assassins, she cried, Then stab me in the womb.
And you know, it feels like it has been two thousand years of Scaevoluses and Lucretias and Brutuses and Agrippinas and still we have not become superhuman, so perhaps it is perfectly reasonable to imagine laughter in the Academy. It, at least, keeps us buoyant enough to walk to the next class, and do our homework, and wake up the next morning in a world that has existed far longer than we have. All that exceptional pain, and yet I am still convinced that they only sought mundanity: a world where they could keep their limbs and lives and loves and laughter, always laughter, that thing that makes eons of smile lines and interlocked hands and scraps of poetry.
Of course, we have told those stories for two thousand years, but here I am, cupping the joy of the Academy in my hands like a mug of tea yet to lose its warmth. It seems it does not have to be so difficult to live forever.