Have a conversation with Paul Baumer. Respond to the italicised words printed above. Can you agree with him? Or do you think he is cynical and hypercritical?
They just talk too much. They have problems, goals, desires that I can’t see in the same way as they do. Sometimes I sit with one of them in the little garden of the pub and try to get the point across that this is everything – just sitting in the quiet. Of course they understand, they agree, they think the same way, but it’s only talk, only talk, that’s the point- they do feel it, but always only with half of their being, a part of them is always thinking of something else. They are so fragmented, no one feels it with his whole life; anyway, it is impossible for me to put what I mean into proper words. (p117, Chapter 7, Vintage Books, translated by Brian Murdoch)
Paul, I am sitting watching the football, and I am watching the people watching the football, and I am thinking this is the closest many of them will get to war.
There is so much noise all around, but this is the closest they will get to the quiet.
Even this they will forget. They will leave, they will have their dinner. They will wash the dishes and talk about what’s on the television. They will have their showers and they will go to sleep.
They will do all of this without once listening to each other, without once sitting and appreciating the stillness of the present moment. Their lungs: full of air, their legs: keeping them mobile, their heart: pumping blood through their veins – they will not think about this as they go through their day. They will not think about this as they go through their life.
I know, Paul, you are different from them now. You can’t settle and they can’t understand. They are so distracted, aren’t they? Half alive, half thinking about tomorrow’s meeting.
You said it best, Paul. ‘Fragmented’. They are in pieces, torn everywhere. The war has broken you, but at least you are together in your brokenness. They are oblivious. Ignorantly unaware. Totally inattentive. Blissful in their absence. Missing the point of everything.
This is the point, isn’t it, Paul? Life. Breath. Acknowledgment of that.
I hear you, Paul.