Just this past weekend, a comforting thought passed through my head. The kind of thought that makes you look at life in a different way. Somehow, things made sense. The thought came to me during a charity concert at a geriatric center in Montreal – of all places.
My girlfriend sings in a choir, and while they were setting up, I found my seat among other audience members. Ambience sounds in a geriatric center can shake you out of your comfort zone. Over on one side you can hear a person coughing up a lung. On the other side, there’s someone shrieking for no apparent reason. In front of you, there’s a person talking loudly to what seems to be their imaginary friend. Finally, the choir comes in and they start to sing.
The music is beautiful. With just a piano accompanying them, the distinctively different voices stacked neatly one on top of the other; forming what felt like a gentle wave of sound that would breeze through you – leaving you feeling like you were floating. Every now and then, however, a cough or a scream would slam you back to reality – forcing you to pay attention to what was going on around you.
I started looking around and began to realize things that would make my eyes water. You see, to the short-sighted, this was just a concert in a geriatric center. To me, however, it was a place in time. I realized that I was in the future and that there was no escaping it. I saw people in wheelchairs with their eyes open – but not intently looking at anything. I saw others having conversations that nobody else understood. I saw white hair and diapers. I saw presence and absence coexisting in the same place, in the same person. It is one thing to look at all this and understand what’s going on; but it is a completely different thing to look at all this as a reflection of you. The latter takes all logic out of it and leaves you without that comforting voice that reassures you that everything is ok. Instead, all you have are your emotions screaming desperately.
It was at that moment that a very sobering thought took over me. Life, you see, is an accident. No matter how many ways you spin it; no matter your belief system; no matter what people tell you; if you sit long enough to look at what’s around you, you will come to realize that it was all an accident. That’s not to say that there are no achievements you have attained in a calculated manner. What I’m saying is that, in the overall scheme of things, if we were to tally-up all the events and things that happen around us, we would see that most of them are accidents. Sure, we may find refuge in the thought that it is all part of a heavenly plan (and maybe it is), but it is not what I felt sitting there in the geriatric center.
I sat and thought about life while the choir sang – my life, their life, the average life. We get up in the mornings, go through our routines, go to work, talk to colleagues and friends, come back home, watch some TV, go to bed and then…we do it all over again. We keep doing it day in and day out, all the while not knowing what’s going to happen. I was in this place, looking at where this loop would eventually leave us: old and forgotten, just waiting for something to happen. That’s the prize. That’s what we get if we just keep at it. We get to be old and alone. We try to stay active and eat foods that will boost our health. Some of us go through surgeries so as to not have the mirror remind us that time is running out. We desperately try to avoid the unavoidable. But there’s no way around it. That’s what is waiting for us. That’s where today will lead you.
These feelings don’t come up often. They overtake you when you go through a loss of your own or come close to losing someone very dear to you. During those times we often encounter people trying to express their empathy to us. They try to insert logic into it so as to make us feel better. They say things like “well, she was 83 years old after all” – as if a life loses value the older you get. And then we realize that we have probably said the same thing to someone else. How ridiculous. Why do we say these things? Why do we fight so hard to stay healthy if we ultimately know what’s going to happen?
I have one answer that I buy into: It’s because we are fucking crazy. We need to be. A certain level of insanity is necessary for us to keep going the way we do. With insanity comes hope. Insanity gives birth to some of the most powerful movements the world has ever seen. Insanity gives way to religion. Insanity is what comforts us. We need to be crazy to endure all the shit that happens around us. You have to be crazy to trust a stranger these days – so be crazy. You have to be insane to develop such strong feelings towards another human being knowing very well that you will ultimately lose them (or they will lose you) – so please, be insane.
“You are crazy” – that’s a compliment if I ever heard one.