While shoving fistfuls of muffins down my throat and sobbing quietly, I read The Boston Globe. My interest rose to above-average (equivalent of mild-interest) levels as I read a front page story regarding the possible destruction of the Brighton Marine Health Center for the purpose of building affordable housing for veterans. The article was full of facts and fun times, reporting about William F. Galvin’s (overseer of the Massachusetts Historic Commission) efforts to stop the demolition. Galvin believes the buildings are historically significant and should remain standing to preserve Brighton’s historic integrity.
Clutching the tear-soaked, crumb-covered pages in front of me, I realized that the article did not mention something that struck me as the most interesting thing about the Brighton Marine Health Center. The center, which I have personally visited because I have too much free time and am kind of weird, was the inspiration for Ennet House, the halfway house that was one of the main settings for Infinite Jest, one of the most difficult and greatest novels of modern time.
I had planned on writing an Infinite Jest column ever since I finished the book. My hopes were to somehow drop the fact that I finished it without sounding too full of myself and without including a bunch of painfully pretentious and badly-executed Wallace references. I saw the potential in this story and read it over multiple times.
Initially, my opinion was that the center should not be torn down. It’s Ennet House, Don Gately wouldn’t allow it, and Infinite Jest is awesome, that was all that needed to be said. Now let’s all twirl our mustaches and sip artisanal teas from our mason jars.
But then I realized something: I don’t know a thing about the situation and am not, in any way, making a decision based on logic or morals. The building means something to me, that was all that lay behind my thoughts.
But during Columbus Day weekend, as I sat in a small boat in the middle of a rural New Hampshire lake vomiting muffin-refuse into the water and pondering my many failings, I realized that I was not living up to my sworn duty to be the best Metro columnist from Kenosha, Wisc. to ever write for The Heights. My thought process was selfish and uninformed. Even worse, I was content with this selfish decision-making and had very little motivation to ponder further or attempt to better the way I thought about things.
The relatively micro-issue of Brighton Marine Health Center is an illustration of much more macro ideas relevant to our lives. With the exception of the occasional saint, we’re all extremely selfish in almost everything we do. Maybe it’s just me, but when I look inward I realize that my main concern at least 95 percent of the time is myself, even when I’m doing things for other people. When considering the issue of tearing down the health center, I wanted it to remain standing because I like Infinite Jest, not because of anything to do with low-income veterans and their housing concerns.
“I’m a terrible person,” I whispered into the quiet New Hampshire air, as I realized my awfulness.
“Yes,” a pleasant, ghostly voice whispered back. “Yes, you are.”
With this realization came a new mission, one I’d like to force on all of you readers. It’s very simple, very banal, very cliched, but it holds some truth. If you really want to be a better person and not some pathetic, self-absorbed turd-monkey who claims to be good while in reality is just a run-of-the-mill idiot, then you have to work to overcome your selfishness.
Do something that seriously inconveniences you, or makes you unhappy, that, in turn, helps someone else. Do it because you’re going to die and what’s important is being good and kind. Choke on this sentiment, readers, choke on it! Maybe the health center should be torn down, or maybe some sort of compromise can be made for Infinite Jest’s sake, I don’t know. But I do know that the right decision lies far beyond my own petty selfishness.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic