Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

The opportunities for living - by Nick van der Leek

Regrets, do you have any?  I have many.  But things could be a lot worse.  Consider for example those 61 Dutch tourists killed in an air crash outside Tripoli. If you had been on a certain Flight 771 carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew and you weren't a 9 year old Dutch boy with a passport saying Ruben van Assouw - you'd be dead.  You and 102 others.  Some of the dead included people returning from their honeymoon in their mid-twenties.  I don't know about you but even though death is certain, there are some deaths that are particularly tragic.  Imagine for example:

- dying on the last day of your matric exams
- dying on the day you graduate from university
- dying on the first day of your honeymoon

The tragedy in the above is that you would have spent 12 years at school, preparing for the life after school, and never having experienced that life.  Or studying and perhaps achieving at university, only to have the possibility of performing in your vocation, doing your thing, snuffed out.  In the third case, presumably you are in love, at the moment you begin your adventure, it ends.

But what is more tragic than all of this is when you are alive, and continue to live, and yet you've died.  I've felt like that for a while.  I remember being quite convinced that the swine flu threat was very credible, and then following Lance Armstrong's progress through the Tour de France at the height of the flu scare.  If Lance had stayed home and played it safe he would have deprived himself of that whole experience last year; you may remember he finished 3rd.  When I visited Australia in February this year I said to myself I was going, I was doing this as a gift to myself.  A very rare thing.  My shrink had also said - think - do.  Stop emotionally evaluating what you do, stop interpreting, go and live.  And so I did.  And after just a few wonderful though very sleep deprived days in Oz I lost my credit card.  That was when those words came back to haunt me - this is your gift to yourself, what are you going to do with it?  I could have gone home.  Lord knows I was in a very difficult predicament.  But I could also struggle through not the most ideal circumstances and make the most of it.  I did the latter.

That is being the master of your own fate.  Making a choice.

Over the last few weeks I have been under almost unbearable amounts of stress.  No, I am not a trader on Wall Street, or a shrimp fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico.  But this stress nevertheless contrived to sicken me for a number of weeks.  It has taken some time to convalesce, to emerge from this deplorable state.  One of the decisions I made during this extended period of malaise was to take up surfing.  I had become sickened by the zombie-existence that is the social media lifestyle.  An existence that is reduced to a few electronic messages and if you're lucky, responses to these.  Also, the Ironman on my doorstep was an inspiration.  You can be imprisoned by your uncertainties, and that prison is really like death.

Maybe going bald was a big issue for me, or having braces for five years during high school [external mind you] or dedicating two thirds of my life sincerely to a belief system I later found to be flawed and false.  Maybe my family have not been the best, maybe I have had misery foisted on me thanks to my own apocalyptic views. Maybe it was all me, and maybe it was all someone elses fault.  maybe both, maybe neither.  Who the hell knows, there's never going to be a court case to prove anything either way beyond reasonable doubt.  The verdict is simply this: That's Life.  Take it or leave it.

Maybe given our present circumstances nightmares of an apocalypse are entirely justified.  Maybe they aren't.  The point is you're still alive, so why not take it.  If you're not dying from a terminal disease then all the more reason not to leave it, but to deal with it.  Maybe you think you don't have a terminal disease, but if you count the terminal affliction of chewing on the bone, thinking, fretting, worrying, nourishing yourself on endless cyles and snippets of news, chomping on internet morsels, twittering and liking and commenting and digging your nail bitten digit into that rubbery button on the plastic console, or the dome of the mouse.  Has this mental masturbation gotten you anywhere?  Because that's not a life. 

I have surfed just twice in the past few days, and the contrast to the skeletal tapping on a keyboard, the ratty obsession to chase comments and tweets, the addiction to friends and followers you hardly know.  Instead of all this eye reddening ennui, jadedness, tedium there is the fluid and organic, bright and wet, sharp and thrilling, fast and churning chariot for the soul.  Surfing.
Instead of lethargy and headaches there's energy and balance. It's one way to be alive.  So is jogging.  So is going for a walk in the crisp of a morning.  Sitting all day behind a screen - whether in a lounge or an office, is no way to live.  So why do you?  Why did I?

Life is action.  Life is movement.  Life is decisions and doing.  To not do any of these is to go to sleep each night and be a Dutch Tourist trapped on a doomed aeroplane.  When you awake your ghost wrestles with your life force, and tries to sink and wreck your ship, so that your spirit sinks to the seabed and stays there.  There you dwell, far below the windy travails of the surface, far below the sinking and rising of the suns, the moons wrestle with the tides.

You could be anchored to that sandy floor by your own thoughts and concerns, real perhaps but really immaterial.  You could be sitting in the quiet at the bottom of the sea, the subterranean darkness that you occupy dimly lit by the monitor of a computer, or a flatscreen

Up, higher and further through those halls of water, through the waving cool curtains of Pacific sized possibility, there might be someone half your age, on a boat...

Maybe your name is Jessica and maybe you're from Australia.  Maybe Watson is your surname, yes Watson as in Sherlock Holmes' apprentice.  But what if sailing rather than insomnia is your thing, and you'd decided to do something never done before, not by boy or girl, and something few had attempted, fewer even than the attempts on Mount Everest...what would you say about that?

You might be sitting in your dark cubicle underwater, holding your breath, predicting disaster. Meantime, this is what someone else, some called Jessica Watson, someone half your age, is experiencing:

...stunning sunrises over glassy seas, the excitement of spotting a blue whale and the dazzling, eerie sight of a shooting star racing across the night sky above her boat...She also had fun, chatting about boys and fashion with "Silly," a brown seabird that landed on her yacht and kept her company. She sang at the top of her lungs with no audience to critique her and indulged her sweet tooth with chocolate cupcakes she baked in her tiny kitchen. A video she shot shows her giggling while dumping a ceremonial bucket of saltwater over her head after crossing the equator. And though the king of Australia dubbed her "Australia's newest hero," Watson was dismissive. "I don't consider myself a hero," she said. "I'm an ordinary girl who believed in her dream."

It's as simple as that.  Now, are you ready to be who you are?  Or will you be what you have to be, do what you have to do, for money, more time at the bottom of the sea?   Will you continue your career of spelunking.  Probing the dark crevices that go nowhere and only reveal more gloom, more shadows that cannot be penetrated. Being conscious is painful.

Consciousness is the opposite of what Kunstler calls a Chinese national fire drill - where everyone runs around in circles to create the appearance of 'doing something, anything' but really not doing anything that is conscious, certainly nothing of consequence, nothing that has relevance to the reigning circumstances.  Being conscious is painful but also delightful, tiring but also invigorating, beautiful, terrifying, stirring, strange, unpleasant, delicious - it's life.  Avoiding life is death.  Wishing away the hours is worse than the fiery flame of an air crash that is beyond your control, but will consume all on board.  The life you wreck yourself is where you gnaw the flesh of your arm, you chew at your own self, in a slow immolation that is more disgusting and desperate than suicide.

Let your blood wash with the waves and foams and sets and tides, the winds the waters, sunlit and moonlit, of the world beyond your cave.  Step out and stay out, for as long as you can.  Enjoy the day for as long as you can and if you possibly can - don't come back.  For then I will know you are happy.


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