Every once in a while I get back in touch with a friend from college. With shockingly few exceptions, I have come to understand that perhaps we were not great friends at all. I don't know why, but that was how it was.
A lot of people recall having lots of friends in college, but I suspect they have a recollection tainted with the same lazy sort of thinking that might lead someone to assume all their friends on Facebook are actually friends. How many people can you rely on for a favor? How many would take a solemnly given warning, waving them away from a very specific mistake you'd made? How many would alert you to a betrayal? How many would shield you from embarrassment? How many would make sure you got home safe, even at the cost of whatever fun plans they had? How many could be relied on without worry? How many made you better a better person?
When people tell me they made a lot of friends in college, I presume they mean the same thing I did – they mean that they met a lot of interesting people they were friendly with, far, far more than they'd meet in any other part of their life, and didn't feel like an imposition on them. Our mistakes were forgiven. And that's something.
But I do not suspect people make a lot of friends in college these days, for the same reason you can't make good friends easily in the public school system – a shocking amount of your time is spent on trivialities, inwardly focused, and largely without serious challenge.
As disastrously as some projects have gone, I've grown to appreciate how my mettle is tested by accepting true responsibility with others. I learn about the people I'm working with, but also about myself. I was impossible to work with (outside of, ya know, work) when I was a teenager. Impossible, truly! And I'm so much better now that I almost wish to send a message to those that I've blown off or had strange expectations for, to tell them I was an idiot but am less idiotic now. I don't want to waste their time exorcising my shame, but certainly I'd love to try something new with them.
People remember parties being fun, but I think a more careful accounting of their time would reveal a much more mixed picture. It was not a Basshunter music video. You had moments you enjoyed, but the whole experience was, ya know, about a memorable as a Basshunter music video, except all the dancing left you sweaty and your sleep cycle completely goofed up. There are journal entries from my first year in the dorms here I was expressing pretty sincere delight that I could get to sleep as early as 4am. I have absolutely no recollection of writing this, my mind substantially destroyed by lack of sleep, but my few memories of what I was doing that late were deeply unimpressive.
It's too easy to be nostalgic about something, substituting a plausible memory for reality. Forgetting the awkwardness of parties and pointless conversations. And the deep, strange loneliness, whose only obvious solution is more indulgence in the pattern – surely continuing until 5am would do... something... to fix the feeling...
There were people I'd speak to every day for months and not know they had a significant other in another state. Can you even imagine such a thing? Yet I wasn't the only one in that social circle who was unaware.
Remembering something is, in many ways, a way to honor it. But some things do not deserve that honor. They were imperfect, like all of life, and sometimes so deeply flawed we should remember it only to learn from it (a fitting use of time at a university). We can discard the complexity of a thing in remembrance, or even learn the wrong lesson from it entirely. And that's something we seen plenty of in Eddard's first chapter in A Game of Thrones.
King Robert arrives in Winterfell, and after introductions, asks to see Lyanna's place in the crypts. He's escorted alone by Ned, where they reflect on their past, the death of Jon Arryn, Jon's son, and the future of the realm, when he asks Eddard Stark to be the next Hand of the King.
Almost everything in this chapter is about times long past, brought up again. Ned recognizing the bannermen and knights that travel with the king. The King himself is almost a stranger to Ned, having been remembered as a huge imposing hero swinging a hammer like it was nothing, he was now fat and useless.
In those days, the smell of leather and blood had clung to him like perfume.
Now it was perfume that clung to him like perfume, and he had a girth to match his height.
I heard someone criticize this writing, but it is a perfect capturing of how Ned sees his old friend. He's seen how this man who won the crown in battle could be degraded by its opulence.
They remember their defeating of the Greyjoy rebellion, and almost immediately Robert demands to see the crypts, to remember his once-fiance.
Ned loved him for that, for remembering her still after all these years. He called for a lantern. No other words were needed.
That's the power of old friends and memories.
And then Robert goes on a strange digression about how he forgot the North was so vast and empty, a seventh of his kingdom. He was shocked to experience the snows (as it was still summer). He remembers the south, the fruit, the women – in a crypt, going to visit someone he feels he loved, he still finds himself preoccupied by the the thin clothes of attractive girls in summer, not able to choose precisely what kind of strange nostalgia he is engaging in.
The entire crypt is, in many ways, a deep structure of remembrance for the Starks. Everyone is there, going back thousands of years, all the Starks, maybe all the Starks that ever were. The ancient customs about leaving swords on the dead to keep their vengeful spirits sealed. Beyond them in the crypts are only their own future graves, so every visit to a recently departed asks you to walk past your family's history.
They remember how Starks used to be kings in the north, and how Ned's family had died – killed during the course of the war, or in its beginnings.
He could hear her still at times. Promise me, she had cried, in a room that smelled of blood and roses. Promise me, Ned. The fever had taken her strength and her voice had been faint as a whisper, but when he gave her his word, the fear had gone out of his sister’s eyes. Ned remembered the way she had smiled then, how tightly her fingers had clutched his as she gave up her hold on life, the rose petals spilling from her palm, dead and black. After that he remembered nothing.
Even tragedy, for this moment, is seen through the lens of memory.
Robert vows to kill Rhaegar for what he did to Lyanna, and Ned has to remind him, he already did, but that isn't enough.
“In my dreams, I kill him every night,” Robert admitted.
Robert is a man trapped in rememberance. He can't move past the war, yet he is no longer the man the war required. He is a man out of his place, and he knows it, when he asks Ned to run the kingdom for him.
“And if I hear ‘Your Grace’ once more, I’ll have your head on a spike. We are more to each other than that.”
“I had not forgotten,” Ned replied quietly.
They remember their closest shared friend, Jon Arryn, who recently passed, and the shambles of a family he left with his passing. And Ned takes a final moment, to have history impose itself on him.
For a moment Eddard Stark was filled with a terrible sense of foreboding. This was his place, here in the north. He looked at the stone figures all around them, breathed deep in the chill silence of the crypt. He could feel the eyes of the dead. They were all listening, he knew. And winter was coming.
Reading Practice - PaRDeS
Today, we'll be using the tool of PaRDeS – a four-step deep reading practice that treats the work as an orchard, where we can reach up and grab anything and know it will be a juicy bit of prose we can think about and learn from.
Today, the randomly selected section is:
The crypt continued on into darkness ahead of them, but beyond this point the tombs were empty and unsealed; black holes waiting for their dead, waiting for him and his children. Ned did not like to think on that.
The Peshat – a literal understanding of what's happening – is that Ned is looking past their stopping point when visiting Lyanna in the crypts and decides to avoid thinking about what the empty spaces are for.
The Remez (or implied or hinted meaning) is more prominent here. The crypts are literal encapsulations of death, and the king asking him to visit is asking him to confront that encapsulation of death, and what his role is in this larger scheme of things. The crypts are a perfect place for the king to ask for his help – the job that will, in short order, kill him – and his obliviousness to the role of the crypts is astounding. He even suggests Ned should have broken thousands of years of tradition in burying Lyanna on a hill instead (of course, if her and Rhaegar were secretly married, somewhat ironic to Robert's comment, that might have been more appropriate – although the internet suggests Targaryens were all creamated, it's unclear if that applies to spouses).
The hint is fairly explicit: the king has ordered you down here because he asks you to face your mortality as well as your duty, whether he understands it or not.
The Derash is found by looking for these words in other places in the story, to see how they're used. For instance, we see the continuation "into darkness" mentioned later, when Catelyn is talking to Tyrion about bringing him to Lysa, who Tyrion informs her has gone at least slightly insane. We also see the phrase when Tyrion is telling about how his first wife was gang-raped by his father's soldiers, and eventually himself, before Tyrion intimates he will kill his father for this, because a Lannister always pays his debts. He see it when people stare directly at the mistakes driven by their duty.
We also see the somewhat omninous "waiting for him" later in this book, when Jon sees Sam wary of the dark and cold of the wall, "as if he suspected some cruel trick was waiting for him in the night". There's no reason to be less than straight-forward: the things waiting for these people are deeply scary, and being scared is the correct response – and I think that's evident in those two characters' results when confronted with their fate.
Even the phrase "his children" ends up being used by Ned is his confession at the sept, referring to his supposed plots to harm the king, as well as in Catelyn's response to Robb's declaration of war. In many ways, our children are our ultimate fate – when we are gone, we hope, they will remain.
The Sod, the secret and esoteric meaning, is always a bit hard to come by. But the idea that they will all continue into the darkness ahead of them, one with empty tombs, waiting for the dead, waiting for the children. That even Ned didn't want to think of it is appropriate, but perhaps a luxury. Many, many people will think of it in the story to come.
I'd like to use this moment to bless Ned. He has a sense of home, a sense of history, and a sense of his duty – if not a sense of humor. But what do you do when you're called away from where you ought to be? Rob wants his help, but never listens to what his old friend thinks is his best reason for coming – visiting the Wall, and helping to rehabilitate the Night's Watch. The King brushes the concern away almost instantly, but it's the truest domain of duty, to tend to obligations others see fit to let waste away.