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Tamsin Smith

Tamsin Smith

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Who Is Jack Ryan?

Posted: 05/26/11 07:49 PM ET

In terms of memorable opening lines, I'm not sure any author can top Vladimir Nabokov in Lolita for pure poetry and mind-bending eroticism, but Nabokov's masterful conjuring doesn't leave much to the imagination. He infiltrates the reader's consciousness, making clear from the get-go that the mad white heat of obsession is what's to come. Not so Ayn Rand, whose Atlas Shrugged commences with a tease, a question -- "Who is John Galt?" This intriguing query recurs throughout the novel, sending the heroine and the reader on a mission of discovery, which results in both a love story and an explication of Rand's compelling, but divisive philosophy of Objectivism.

Well, enough of the literary lecturing. I hope that my title at least got your wheels turning. Are you ready now to learn a man's essence? For we are here today to talk about Jack Ryan ... or are we? I could divulge that Jack's a bit of an international man of mystery. He certainly does live "abroad." I know his country, even his county, of origin. I've seen imagery that suggests a family life, signs of generosity towards strangers, an infectious likability, and a quick and wicked wit. We share one friend, who is the soul of great fun or "cracker" to use a Jackism. Yet, are words ever enough to capture what lies at the heart of another sentient being? Does it even matter if Jack exists? Could he simply be the invention of our mutual friend, as a lark perhaps, or as an emblem of possibility -- the possibility of finding humor and delight in an individual one does not know?

Every relationship we form is an act of exploration, a groping in the dark as we rub the walls for a light switch. We test and we hope. We ride the wave of initial excitement into the glide of communion or the crash of lost footing. I hope Jack and I survive. It's been a week together on Facebook now. Our mutual friend is someone I actually do know. It's been over four years since we first met and got thrown out of a restaurant together (is that better or worse than being expelled from a bar?). We were talking the other day about life's ups and downs and the difficulty choices often present. I rather flippantly said, "nothing's forever," thinking that would be a comfort to uncertainty. "Our friendship is," he responded. And that, given that history and future will always have tribulations, is the true comfort.

I watched a Werner Herzog documentary the other night, in which the filmmaker lamented there are no new lands to discover. He is wrong. There are millions of them. Indeed, no man is an island. Friend me.

 

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