Tag Archives: impermanence

28 Before 28: Read Slaughterhouse-Five

12 Nov

In my 28th year of life, I’m attempting to do 28 new things. Full list here.

One thing you can say about me and my bucket list is that despite never completing my birthday bucket list, I always manage to accomplish the book portion. So, yes, I might be dilly-dallying about visiting a new country. And, no, I don’t know of any gun ranges in the tri-state area. But, dammit, I put this book on hold at the library the day after I formulated the list.

“Slaughterhouse-Five” was a book I knew little about going into it. I knew it had something to do with war, but I didn’t even know which one. It’s about WWII.

I have read plenty of books about war. The heroism, the death, the senselessness, the evil necessity. This book, however, I didn’t find overly emotional. The plot jumps back and forth through time as the main character is unable to live his life chronologically. So we see him in Dresden, but a moment later we see him in optometry school, sometimes we even see him abducted my aliens flying miles away from Earth.

What I loved about the humor of Vonnegut’s writing was that everything was presented as fact, as simple detail. He left it to us to string it all together. Every time death is mentioned in the book, he sums it up with the phrase “So it goes.” That might seem cold, but it’s a beautiful thing in a sense.

I did some brief Internet research into Vonnegut and any relation to Buddhism, and I couldn’t find a link. But this idea of “So it goes” and the frequent jumping back and forth through time reminded me of some of the basic principles of Buddhism. Mainly the idea of impermanence. Nothing in our lives is permanent. Moments of suffering, moments of happiness, times of success, times of failure. Everything comes to an end, as do we. It’s a peaceful way to look at things. It also leads into the idea that nothing is real except this moment. The images we have of the past and the future are illusions. The only truth is now, in this moment. It is the only thing that is real.

For me, taking a main character and making him “unstuck” in time, flying through eras of his life, jumping from year to year, plays with this idea of what is real, what is past, and what is future. It was fascinating and a curious concept to think about.

Whoa, didn’t mean to get so Bodhisattva there. I couldn’t help it though. Vonnegut got me thinking with this one.

“And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”