My Day Of Atonement
Sometimes, when your thoughts run away with your imagination and you melt in with the crowd of unknown people, you suddenly encounter something or someone you've perceived before. Like a distant memory suddenly emerging from the chaotic unconscious to the structured, conscious awareness inside of us. Today I experienced that sensation, when sitting on the train and suddenly spotted a familiar person I knew I've seen before. It was a woman, pretty beautiful, dressed in black sports pants, green shirt, carrying a heavy bag over her shoulder. It was the length, the long blonde hair, and the timid, friendly face, that reminded me of someone I'd studied together with some year ago. Back then we were buried in the classic literature of Balzac, Joyce and Hesse. I remembered her as a sweet person, somewhat uniform in personality, and a devout Catholic. The distant memory suddenly turned into a wild, rich imagination of the proportions of a Tolkien fantasy world.
Then, as I was sitting there and about to get off, I noticed a man getting up and standing behind her, continuing what seemed to be a part of a longer conversation about something. While they were heading toward the exist, something immediately struck me: how fast life passes us by. It's as if we're passengers on the train of life, and we're all granted a first class ticket to the Final Destination. Instinctively it's be each man's and woman's duty to enjoy those beautiful - and horrifying - landscapes outside the window, while we hastily move toward our collective end. It didn't strike me as particularly strange or scary, but very powerful. Think of it: each day you awake to a world of almost infinite possibilities. Every chance is our chance. And yet we've confined ourselves to the sheer activity of tapping at keyboards for 8 hours, watching people move inside glowing boxes, and spending the rest of our waking time worrying about money and the future. In the mean while, the train is always moving and unless we manage to get a glimpse of what it's like to be out there and live, possibly participate in it and leave something behind, our existence has essentially been the travel from birth to death. From one stop to another, endlessly.
What moved me so strongly about seeing this woman again, was the realization that while life is full of chances, they pass us by unless we grab hold of and shape them according to our will. I remember the woman as a pretty uninteresting character and, although good-looking and coming from a good, solid family, not matching the ideal individual I was hoping for to inspire me to become a greater person and create greater things, and vice versa. Thus I'd left her behind; left one chance out of a million behind, and not thinking that such a chance might never come again. The reappearance of this woman was like seeing, literally, a past opportunity walking past you again, to tease you into realizing that life is ultimately what you make of it. While we are born with a set of abilities, hard-wired experiences ("genetic memory") and within a specific cultural context, it is up to us to cultivate and expand on those things to, paraphrasing a philosopher who correctly understood this and turned it into his own life philosophy, "become who we are." This implies that while we can't change the platform of our behaviour and personality, we can make it grow, like a tree, and if we do it with spirit and grace, it will eventually bear fruit and nurture both ourselves and others. Rotten trees - those who do not develop and grow, die from within due to lack of nourishment.
My instant flashback brought me mercilessly back into reality. It was time for me to get off, so I grabbed my magazine and walked outside, approaching the elevator to the bridge that leads down to the main city street. And as I was walking, I could see in the corner of my left eye that she was walking next to me. Every now and then a pillar covered the sight, and then I'd see her again. It was like walking past yourself, observing yourself - or the person you could have been, communicating together in silence among the noise from people and cars: "I see you, but I don't have to turn around and face you, because I was the one you left behind a long time ago." As we were travelling up the elevator and finally reached the top of the stairs, she took a left turn and stopped to chat with the man I'd seen on the train, together with what seemed to be a friend of theirs. Without turning around and knowing if she ever noticed me, I continued to walk past them, heading down the street. I could feel the essence of what had just happened: if every chance in life was sacred, we'd never be able to move on. The train would stop and we'd never reach our destination. This is why people who feel disappointed with life rarely commit suicide: as if someone had turned down the megahertz of a processor, the pace of life speeds down and suddenly you feel like grabbing hold of everything and everyone, to regain a sense of completion and inner harmony. We refuse to die when we dislike life, because we want to catch a last glimpse of the world of possibilities before we decide to cop out. It's our inner child screaming to come out and make the world a beautiful place again.
Contemplating those thoughts, I wasn't feeling dispirited or worried. On the contrary, while folding the magazine in my hand and watching people pass by in a rush over the cross walk, I almost marched between the cars and felt my life was turning into a late afternoon cabaret. I was the conductor, hiding in the background, waving my magic wand and turning everything into a dance play, following the direction of my every emotion and will. It was as if life turned into a poetic battleground and the people around me were warriors, horses and cannons. It was war, in the sense that the inevitable destiny of death lingered in the air, but around it was an aura of lust to seize the day and make most of what was being offered. You could sit down by a café and have your late lunch, catch the bus to meet up with your friends, or simply relax in the quiet park close to the cathedral and listen to the chants of church bells, ringing in a new day with an endless array of possibilities. And there it was, the peaceful knowledge that while a million chances will pass us by every day, a handful of those will be selected to make our day interesting and challenging. People will show up and disappear, battles will be won and lost, love sensations will come and go, but that which remains - the determined and powerful will of the individuality, its will to make the world your world - will continue to face the glory of existence and force itself into the mercy of countless adversaries. To love and grow into a large, majestic tree among the other trees in the forest, silently awaiting its day of atonement.
June 18, 2007
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