Hello, my fellow alumni! Thanks for reading this, wherever you are.
Today I’d like to think with you together, about a subject that has remained in my mind since those good old days in ICUHS. Yes, “good old” because school was not my thing to be honest and it’s only in its aftermath that I’ve become to appreciate its real value.
At the time, I was only dreaming in my world of maths and brooding forever on life’s complexities, like some crazy Pythagorean disciple. Yet behold, life isn’t as bad as expected, too good to be called aftermaths of a failed mathematikoi. So, what makes this journey on earth stand out, worth living despite all its unforgettable pains and distress? That, I feel, is about the Art of being Unique, how each one of us lead a living that can only be expressed by ourselves, no matter what circumstances prescribe or dictate.
I was born as an identical twin, what luck! Highly recommended if you ever have the chance to predefine your siblings, by the way. Not to say that it goes without its own difficulties, as one music teacher subtly remarked during my early years in England. “How do you two distinguish yourselves, how do you know you’re You?”, was the existential question thrown from the Australian guitarist with curly hair and fancy glasses. Oh, what a silly enquiry, what nonsense.
But with some second thoughts, it gradually dawned on me this was nothing too light to be neglected, just like a piece of cheese you left in the fridge and forgot to eat, this rather ingenious question started to ripen and stink a bit. Hang on, why the hell am I me, and not someone else?
As I now reflect with mixed feelings on the time spent at ICUHS, this was the question I was trying to live and decipher. Of course, nature and nurture both have a part to play, the latest epigenetics and immunology tells us plenty of stuff about our identity being rich and vague. So does my favourite maths with its imaginary twins, identity mapping, automorphisms and paradoxical self-references. People at school were boasting how “unique” the students and teachers were, not a bad thing in itself, though a weird expression when you reconsider what it means to be unique. However, the gist of this enquiry lies not in the technical aspect of Being nor the philosophy of Meaning, but rather in why your Yourness is sustained. Yes, not my Myness but your Yourness, I think is the key.
After dropping off the beaten track and embarking on my path as a cheesemaker, I learnt a lot on the field. Literally on the fields, chasing the cows in the morning to milk and climbing the alpine pastures to see them ruminating happily, back to the stable for the evening munch. Crafting good cheese is much about the passion, the dexterity and tenacity in your mission, but most of all about the care you undertake, the commitment to the Other which makes all the difference. Perhaps it is true for all walks of life…
This reminds me of another phrase that struck my infant curiosity and attentiveness, the exclamation “Who cares?!”. Not a real interrogation of person in charge, but an expression of ignorance and abandoning ownership, similar to “So what?”. It was terribly shocking to me as a kid, to be confronted with such a degree of neglect on stuff that changed your life, good or bad. Surely the choice of cheese to put in your sandwich, whether Brie, Cheddar or Parmesan could have a fateful impact, a matter of lunchtime BCP!
Cracking bad jokes is also a part of my character, can’t help it. What I wanted to convey is the following. I realise my own existence insofar as I care for Others and am cared for. To the extent that one doesn’t care about things or isn’t cared for by fellow beings, we all don’t master our own cheese, and this probably is the mystery about the Art of being Unique.
Now I live in the Japanese Alps, watching the River Azusa every day. Sometimes wondering about the teachers in ICUHS, those brilliant mathematical shepherds from Nagano who inspired me to follow my own star. And all the unique fellows who knew the essence of ICU, not bleating in the void like “Aye She Ewe” but calling “I See You” instead.