The Student, The Angel, and Golden Autumn: A Narrative Essay

12
January, 2022
Guy Mizrahi, Blog Correspondent

“That night [Jacob] arose… [and] Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” (Genesis 32:22-24)

The Malaise of deep autumn arises. It floats above and below the clouds, it seeps into routine, it consumes with a vigour unlike any other. The Student—whoever they may be—is afflicted with this Malaise wherever they move, wherever they rest. It forces The Student to ask questions they’d avoided:

“What is it even for?,” “Is the purpose of this all meant to be obvious?,” “Where is the value to be found?,” “And why this discipline, that I chose blindly?”

The Student must acknowledge an unsympathetic reality: these questions are of no worth. Their answers, though attainable, are unsatisfying. These answers are ones The Student silently prayed they would not hear, even though they knew—somewhere deep in their reason—that they were self-evident. And so, the books become dry, the lectures much too long, the writing uninspired. The Student who arrived with the best of intentions is now spiritually hollow, stuck punishing themselves for their failure to attain epiphany.

“He wretched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him.” (Genesis 32:25)

The Student now feels pathetic. They feel as if they are stuck on an imaginary island where only one coconut tree survives. A parrot visits them occasionally, although it never has anything new to say. They swam to the island with ease, smooth with the currents of the ocean, happy to let it show the way. When The Student found the island, they were overjoyed and thought it their oasis. And yet, they eventually became paranoid when they cried out and no one replied. They assumed they had gotten lost while swimming, never to be found in the flesh.

Upon this island, in the depths of autumn, The Malaise grows strongest.

It grows so strong, The Student becomes resentful toward the curiosity that brought them to the Island in the first place. What was The Student interested in back then? It doesn’t matter. Whether they were Kantian Ideals or Biomechanical Models, they’ve all become despised and avoided. The Student even begins to bargain, offering everything they own in hopes of returning to dry land.

And their island seems smaller with every sunrise.

And the coconut water becomes more acidic.

And the Parrot never learns new words.

***

“But he answered, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me’” (Genesis 32:26)

One morning, The Student wakes up before their alarm, and watches a low fog embrace their window. They follow their routine as usual. At some point, The Malaise shows its face, reminding The Student that it shall be there the entire day. The Student studies The Malaise carefully, as they often do; but something is different today. Whether because their natural awakening or the fog, their reaction to The Malaise is unusual. They feel empowered against The Malaise, having fought it so long, and stand tall as it glowers.

The Student looks away from The Malaise. They focus on brushing their teeth, getting dressed, and walking out the door with their eyes forward. The Malaise hangs behind them, but The Student keeps their eyes locked on the furthest point they can see, focused in a way they’d never known.

This focus remains the entire day. In the library as assignments are finished, in lectures as ideas are shared, in their readings as they listen to past masters. Oddly enough, their focus allows The Student to ignore The Malaise completely. On their imaginary island, the Parrot has flown away, the coconut water is refreshing again, and the sand is softer to sleep on. Nevertheless, they are still on the island with no destination hanging in the horizon.

And yet The Student, in their imagination, ignores this too. A warmth envelops their soul and their next action emerges unconsciously. They begin to swim in the raging waters, pushing against the current, focusing as intensely as they can on the horizon and its endless questions.

The Student is swimming against their will; they don’t know how to return to the island, and they have already come so far. Soon enough, The Student is reading voraciously, listening intently, and pouring their heart into all their studies—for if they don’t, The Malaise will return and their temporary might will dissipate.

They must keep swimming against that furious ocean, tasting saltwater with every stroke.

They must stay focused, growing stronger than The Malaise with each day.

They must stay disciplined to the sentiments burning deep and beautiful within their soul.

***

Your name shall no longer be Jacob…for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)

Deep autumn has now died, and a deeper winter has taken its place. A darker, more sinister Malaise has also arrived, pirouetting behind The Student wherever they go. The Student is blind to this intensified Malaise, as they were to its previous form, due to their revived focus and spirit. The Malaise could grow twofold, as tall as a mountain, and The Student would not notice. It has become impotent in contrast to the discipline The Student has cultivated, ultimately rendered no more than a shadow upon a wall, a phantom hanging quietly.

This dynamic between The Student and The Malaise will continue as such for years. The Student will continue to note the freedom of their focus, and The Malaise, no matter how powerful it becomes, will never penetrate that freedom. Whether they recognize it or not, The Student has taken the first and most fundamental step towards losing their academic namesake. It will take years, and the fight will often be exhausting, but The Student is well on their way to becoming something—whatever it may be—that they desire: The Logician, The Biologist, The Writer, The Linguist, The Musician, The Archeologist. The Student’s limits are boundless, for The Malaise is now no more than a speckled star far-off in the distant cosmos.

With The Malaise vanquished, The Student is free to dream again.

In their fantasy, The Student continues to swim for years, the ocean never ceasing in its violence. Their arms sting with pain and their mind often feels numb from all they’ve thought of.

Eventually, a large continent appears in front of The Student and they swim towards it, collapsing on its shores once they reach the water’s edge. They sit and stare out upon the horizon once more before they turn their eyes away. They examine the allure of the continent, wondering what secrets they will come to know. The Student cannot see anything except that allure, and so they walk upon the continent freely. They find good food and wonderful drinks to warm their body, finally enjoying rest after such a treacherous swim. Once skin and bones, The Student is now meat and flesh, full and red-faced.

And yet, The Student still finds themselves sitting on the water’s edge every night, staring out onto the ocean’s sheen and wishing, against their will, that they were again swimming to some unknown land. They miss the pain in their arms and the fortitude built into their mind. They miss the saltwater and the sun’s heat. They miss the sleeplessness of their swim and they miss their constant battle with every wave that happened to appear. The Student weeps nightly, sitting on the water’s edge. From there on out, they ignore the drinks and pleasures of the continent they had worked so hard to find. Time passes and their face loses its rose-red, and their bones reappear. The continent’s food goes rotten and its drinks become sour.

One night, The Student wades back into the ocean, leaving behind that which they thought they wanted, and begins to swim again. Where they are going, even they do not know.

“The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping on his hip.” (Genesis 32:31)

This dynamic between The Student and The Malaise will continue as such for years. The Student will continue to note the freedom of their focus, and The Malaise, no matter how powerful it becomes, will never penetrate that freedom. Whether they recognize it or not, The Student has taken the first and most fundamental step towards losing their academic namesake. It will take years, and the fight will often be exhausting, but The Student is well on their way to becoming something—whatever it may be—that they desire: The Logician, The Biologist, The Writer, The Linguist, The Musician, The Archeologist. The Student’s limits are boundless, for The Malaise is now no more than a speckled star far-off in the distant cosmos.

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