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Monday, December 08, 2003

Stream of... something, something

There was a child, once, who was playing across the street from a restaurant his family was eating at. He is outside because his parents are paying the bill and having so-called “adult conversation,” which is an activity that bores him senseless. In the clearing where he explores, there is an old railroad track which is rusted to the point where it is indistinguishable from the worm-eaten wood which had once passed for the slats between the two rails. The only contrast in the steely dusk is the gray rocks the track was lain through, which used to shudder as the trains thundered past.

He stands up on one of the rails and walks along with his arms straight out, like the wings of an airplane. He gets so lost in the crimson of his newfound balance beam that he doesn’t hear at first when his parents emerge from the belly of the restaurant and begin calling for him to come back. It is only when concern creeps into his father’s voice, and then concern gives way to anger that the child snaps out of his personal game and goes rushing back to his parents. Sprinting across the yard, he pays little regard to anything but the movement of his legs and getting back to his parents; avoiding punishment at all cost becomes his goal. All he notices is a personal dawn as the headlights approach.

After many months in the hospital, he gets back to school, though with physical therapy replacing after-school soccer practices and a new caution to temper the enthusiasm he once displayed. He grows up to a comfortable career, and a comfortable marriage. He takes care of himself. He jogs in the mornings. He doesn’t drink coffee or smoke. He passes away quietly at the age of eighty-three, never having taken an undue risk or having made a decision which wasn’t carefully weighed. Many people attend his funeral.

This is the sort of life many of us can expect. Not exactly the same, but something similar to it. We grow up with a trust that the world is a place which won’t hurt us, and which is safe within a certain confines. Usually it does not happen in such dramatic fashion, but eventually this façade is broken down and one by one our illusions about our parents, ourselves, and our world rot away. They never really disappear; they just fail to completely support the weight they once did. If you lean too hard on them, they’ll give way; you just learn not to question these simple myths we weave for ourselves.

We call it accepting reality. We call it “growing up.” We call it any number of things in any number of ways, but the message is always the same: you get a certain number of mulligans, but eventually, gambling your comfort for some ethereal benefit is considered crass.

Avoiding pain becomes the focus of life. Getting pleasure or happiness is secondary to the avoidance of hurt. We try to tell ourselves that we’re living, but really we sit crouched in the dark corners of the world, jumping at any loud noise. There’s nothing people hate more than surprises. We never achieve depth because we’re too busy protecting ourselves from feeling anything that would provide it. We won’t let ourselves go in the depth of human experience without a filter through which it can pass.

We accept a grayscale version of things, and grope blindly for meaning in all of it, where there meaning has left with the context of it all. We read Ernest Hemingway to learn about war and Langston Hughes to learn about love, and leave it at that. Nobody earns their depth, they just mimic what they see as depth in others, leading to a pantomime of life where life stops impersonating art, and life starts impersonating life.

It’s all very depressing.

cranked out at 8:30 PM | |

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