Slowly but surely, he made his way through the diminishing darkness. Although he had been hiking for a few hours already, the first shy rays of the new day’s sun urged him onwards. A feint feeling of recognition crept up on him. “We’re from this land”, he thought, “the land of sand and plants and birds and sunshine and rain, not from the land of concrete floors and steel walls. This is where we belong.” He stopped for a moment, taking in the sounds and scents of his surroundings. He smiled. He had been here before, he felt. Not physically, but he had been in this state of mind before.
Only a few more yards, and he’d be where he wanted to be – the peak. It was hard going on this part of the mountain. Its steep sides were covered in a thick layer of volcanic ash. With every step he sank deep into the soft ground, greatly slowing his progress. He didn’t mind. He was out here for the physical challenge and for the sheer purpose of being here. It felt good being here. He’d visited many places on his travels and had seen many amazing things, awed over manmade wonders and had learned from many different cultures – but it was always nature that awed him most, taught him most, welcomed him most. He relished in the sounds of birds chattering and waterfalls clattering, absorbed the peacefulness of nature’s opera. It’s rarely silent out in the wild, yet its sounds are soothing and never disrupting. He wondered why that was.
He had reached the peak and sat down. He felt the cold from the stones through his clothes, but he paid it no heed. He gazed down on his surroundings, smiled, and felt the first real rays of the rising sun on his cheeks. He had climbed for hours all for this moment and it did not respond. He saw the grey fade from the trees getting drenched in sunlight, which sucked up every ray of light and beamed their flourishing greens and browns in return. The river he had crossed earlier started shimmering with diamonds. He felt at home.
“Beautiful”, he heard him himself mumbling in awe. “Absolutely stunning. And I’m the only one here to see it. But what is it that makes this beautiful? Why is the forest a place of peace and are the concrete jungles of our cities generally despised?” He felt he knew the answer, but the words eluded him. His mind clouded.
He thought back on an earlier conversation he had had, seemingly a lifetime ago. He could not recall with whom. A figure shrouded in the mist of his mind’s eye. The figure had pleaded and begged, despaired even. The figure had delivered the most heartfelt speech he’d ever heard, a plea for an opinion he vehemently opposed. An opinion he had opposed for as long as he remembered and would never in good conscious surrender. The figure clad in clouds had pleaded for irrationality in life and in love. Now who would ever even dare say such a thing? Irrationality is by definition something you cannot argue for, yet the figure had persisted. He damned himself for not recalling who had uttered the laughable argument.
His mind’s eye gave way to his earthly eyes and he gazed upon the world again, now fully immersed in the light of the sun. Why does nature instil such peace in our souls, when it is clearly capable of massive destruction? Nature is cut-throat. From the cheetah ripping out the antelope’s throat mid-sprint to the violent eruption of volcanoes and tsunami’s killing millions in the process, nature is hard knock. Yet we rarely think of nature this way, preferring to think of it as the little bird chattering its song, not even thinking about the butterfly we awed over just a minute ago, newly digesting in its belly. Why do we get so lovey-dovey when thinking about nature? Why don’t we see things for what they are? We have to be rational about it. Nature is an arms race, a death trap, a game of bloodshed. Pitching gladiator against gladiator, fighting to the death, without so much as an audience or a curtain call. We’re all gladiators, born in enslavement and raised to die violently.
On the move
On the move again. He loved being on the road. There’s something oddly special about moving from train to bus to cab to boat, constantly going where you’ve never gone before, and most importantly – managing it all. It’s fantastically empowering to realize that your whole life is in the backpack you’re carrying around and it doesn’t matter what life throws at you – you’ll figure it out.
He had spent a lot of time on the road already. He liked travelling high-speed – visiting a place, seeing its essence, moving on again – never staying longer than necessary. He’d seen so much in, how long as it been?, that it had all become a blur. He could hardly remember his life back home, he had no roots. He was free! He missed his friends dearly, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made. That’s only rational. He travelled on gut instinct, hardly caring for the “must-sees” and “have-to-do’s” of others. Seeking out the little places, the back alleys and the secret pathways of the world, he felt an adventurer.
His favourite activity was exactly what he was doing right now – travelling by train. A train has everything that excites the soul. Motion. A set, inevitable path, with an unknown destination. You just pick a destination and you go. Onwards to the great unknown. And all that at his favourite pace – high velocity. Trains are one of man’s most philosophic creations, he concluded.
His stomach rumbled. He groaned. Stomach aches are a part of every journey, yet they’re always unwelcome. Eating food becomes a bit of a Russian roulette when you don’t pay close enough attention, and he liked to drift off. He’d had his fair share of food poisoning and he knew the signs. When you’ve been travelling for a while and have endured a multitude of hardships, ranging from ravenous hunger to sleep deprivation to being horribly lost in the middle of … well, where? … something happens to your mindset. You reach what some call “travellers ascension”. What it is and when you’ve reached can only be known by those who’ve been there. Nothing matters anymore. Lost in the city, no idea where to go? Adjust your plans and you’re lost no more. No place to sleep for the night? Crash on the street. Twenty-four hours on a seat in a single train, rushing from nowhere to nowhere surrounded by people whose language you don’t speak? Not a problem. It’s as if all this is happening to someone else, projected on someone who shares your body but is not you. You look at him and laugh. Life is only miserable if you think it is.
But this time, there was no escape and he knew it. Travellers ascension or not, when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. He jumped up and bolted for the bathroom door. Locked. Nice. Just what he needed right now. He banged on the door. A hoarse voice barked back something unintelligible. He shuddered and felt his sphincter fighting back the internal upcoming onslaught. He felt a slight trickle escaping and beginning its crawling descent down his leg, or was that just his imagination? He starting sweating from the physical strain and the heat and the fever and the waiting and the shaking of the train, further and further tormenting his cramped up body and brain. It was such a peaceful life just a minute ago. The door opened. He didn’t even see who came out the door, all he saw was the opportunity of relief. He yanked the door shut, dropped his pants and let go. And scattered. He couldn’t help himself, it’s those goddamn squat toilets. He had no time to position himself properly, the train get shaking him up and his legs muscles felt weakened… but who gives a shit? He felt better. While the floor of the little stall had seen better days, his jeans were largely unharmed and untainted. Going to the bathroom in these areas and not completely fucking up your own shit? That’s a victorious moment in any traveller’s book as far as he was concerned.
He opened the doors and stared into the eyes of an angry looking lady. He flushed for a second, but then regained his composure. He was anonymity incarnated, as soon as he’d broken the line of sight with this woman he’d be gone and she’d be gone and they’d never see, let alone recognize, each other. Problem solved. She peered over his shoulder and gasped, yelled. He glanced away in terror and walked. She reached for his arm, but he angrily brushed her off. What the fuck does she want? Solve this problem for us both right now, for the love of god. He stalked off as fast as he could, barely registering the angered words shouted from behind. He stalked off to the next cabin, oblivious to her shouting. He flushed with embarrassment, but what the hell was he supposed to do about it? Fucking holes they call toilets and this fucking train doesn’t stop moving… ah, forget about it.
He sat down again. Looking out the window the world seemed a blurred picture, framed by the train compartment, rushing and rushing by. Scenery after scenery, a constant barrage of new sights to be seen, new places to be explored, a constant renewal and reconfirmation of the unknown. Trains can have a both estranging and intriguing effect on those more inclined to daydreaming, and they certainly had their effect on him. He thought back on his trip so far. He’d travelled far and wide and had seen many, many places. How many he couldn’t even begin to count. He even had trouble recalling his whereabouts of last week. Life becomes a blur, when you’re travelling. By running from bed to bed and from mountain to river to glacier, you lose touch with home base. Your anchor. Anchorless, you drift through the universe and the concept of days and weeks and months loses its meaning. Life simply becomes a cycle of sunrises and sunsets and whatever happens between them is what happens. Yesterday’s a million miles away and tomorrow doesn’t exist. Anchorless drifting… it is a form of meditation and reflection, an exercise in patience and humility for the soul. Without talking, constantly on the lookout for changes in environment, sailing the sea of silence within.
He smelled. Trying to recall the last time he showered, he chuckled. It must have been at least a couple of days, as he remembered climbing the mountain in the same ragged yellow shirt as he wore now. Every traveller knows there’s a certain moment in the journey where you just stop caring for inane things like showering and laundry and personal hygiene. Standards are held high at first, then quickly become a nuisance and then they simply slip into oblivion. Left in a hostel somewhere along the way, lonelier than the overlooked pair of socks under the bed.
Laundry especially becomes the bane of those with wanderlust. It’s the ultimate showstopper. Who hasn’t been in the situation where you were going high speed through the country side, piling experience upon experience, only to be stopped by a sudden shortage of underwear? When you’re moving through the world, free as a bird, hair unkempt, baggy eyes but with the rawest and most gorgeous smile on your face, who gives a shit about clean socks? So you stall your laundry for a day and choose from your least dirty clothes and once you’re doing that – why bother showering? He sniffed and decided – he smelled like freedom!
Mountain peaks and empty sleep
In his thoughts he travelled back to the mountain peak. Why did he love it there so much? What’s so exciting about being on a mountain peak, gazing over the world below. Up above you’re a king among ants, looking over lives being lived so far down below. Why did he relish that feeling of silent superiority so much? It’s a moment of reflection, of taking a step back and just observing. Of taking a moment to soak in the beauty surrounding you. But it’s also a moment of supreme ridiculousness. Why is this what we call beauty? Why do we drop our jaws over waterfalls shining in the first light of dawn, yet don’t even think twice about the muddy rivers running through our cities? Why do we travel far and wide to see mountains and rivers and volcanoes? What’s the appeal? Why do we see beauty in these things and more importantly – why do we feel beauty is so important in this world? No starving man has ever begged for beauty rather than food and no soldier in death throes has ever chosen a Picasso over penicillin. Why ever choose form over function? Where’s the rationality in it? Beauty has no function in life, it’s purely a manifestation of the irrational.
Beauty is man’s attempt at making something more than it is, purely because we cannot bear the thought this… this what you have here, your routine of work-movie-sleep(monday)-work-gym-sleep(tuesday)-work-boringrelativesvisiting-sleep(wednesday)- work-movie-sleep(thursday)-work-tootiredtomove-sleep(friday)-workinginthegarden-drinkswithfriends(saturday)-sleep-relaxing-sundayeveningblues-sleep(sunday)… this is it. This is life. This is what we’ve chosen, this is us.
He rejected beauty.
Having pierced the veil of beauty, he felt reborn. Gazing upon the world anew, he truly saw. Everything he used to consider ugly, he now saw for its true value. Others must have preceded him in his revelations, for he saw many a product of the ghost of ruthless efficiency. Grey skyscrapers – pinnacles of the glory of modern man. Concrete and plastic – a basis to build on.
If beauty can so easily be defied by rationalism… what other fallacies are there to tackle? What philosophical botching did he still have to solve? Rationalism. His long-time friend. My only ally in these darkened days, in this world high on emotion and filled with fallacies.
And then it hit him. Life. Life is by far the largest, most obscene fallacy of them all. Its only purpose is suffering… or rather, its only purpose is continuation of that suffering. Survival of the fittest? Fuck that. Nature’s a perpetually spinning wheel of horror. The works of a sadistic puppet master. The little boy burning ants with a magnifying glass, over and over and over again. Why? Because he can.
Why put up with it? Why deal with even the littlest bit of grief?
A purely rational being must see the pointlessness of existence. We all experience both sadness and happiness in our lives. There’s grief and joy for all, even if they are not equally distributed. Some live lives simply a little bit more fortunate than others, but we all suffer and we all die. Why fight a fight you cannot win? Why run a race without a finish line? There’s no medal and flowers and kisses at the end, there’s only death. There’s no glory, there’s no heaven, there’s no purpose. You live on in the memories of others, as they say, but they die too and then you’re really, really dead. As if you were never there. Think of all the people that have passed, but live on in memory. Your grandparents, perhaps your father and mother, Einstein, Socrates, Newton, Bach, Mozart. The big ones. And then think of all the people we don’t remember. All the people that led their lives, did nothing remarkable and then died. Millions and millions and millions of pointless lives lived, for nothing. Years and years of suffering, vanished in thin air. Gone.
The only rational thing to do is to die. As fast as possible.
Cogs of the universe
And with that thought, he felt the earth giving way underneath his feet. The once solid ground dissolved, disappeared as though it had never existed. All colour around him faded and lights grew dim. Darkness surrounded him. Suspended in the air, he felt the warmth seeping from his body. The sweat chilled on his back, froze over and pricked him like a thousand tiny needles. His finger grew numb and stiff. He gasped for air, but his lungs remained empty-handed. He had entered the void.
It was as if the lights went out. Everything seemed dark, pointless, and desperate. Fear grasped his throat with an icy, bony hand. He gasped in horror – this can’t be! Yet he realized with growing terror that it was. He stumbled, fell to his knees. “Nothing matters. Life is a tale of horror, an eighty something yearlong funeral procession for us all. We are all born to march to the grave. End this now, have mercy!”
But he knew it wouldn’t end. Not until he died, and worse – he could not die. Not by his own hand. Never. He thought of his friends, his family. Killing himself would cause them so much grief, so much pain. It was not an option. He could never bear their grief, not even in death. His loved ones… and his prison guards. He knew he could never hurt them in any way, and by that, he signed his own lifelong sentence. Imprisoned by love… oh, the irony.
Another shock of terror and dread thundered through his brain. He could never kill himself. But he could die. By accident. Accidents happen all the time. Cars crash. Stairs are slippery. Kitchen appliances fail and burn down houses… He could not be blamed. The mere thought made him sick, yet… He felt trapped. Neither alive nor dead. A spectre going through the motions.
The darkness seemed to last forever. Time moves slowly in the void. He felt naked, chained to the floor. Every minute a drop of water fell on his forehead. The clock hand groaned through its perpetual circle and a drop fell. And fell. And fell. Time warped. Throughout the aeons, the drops became a trickle, the trickle a stream, the stream a waterfall. It irritated skin and soul, burned, then tore at his flesh. The cogs of the universe crunched on and on. The days crawled before his feet, through his veins, pierced his skull. He died a million times. The cogs of the universe crunched and crunched and then grinded to a halt. Darkness surrounded him. Time stopped. Terror consumed him, devoured his soul. Constant warfare between the wish to die and the duty to his loved ones tore him apart. The duty to love and – even worse – to be loveable. Smile, goddammit! It only made it worse.
The darkness. The never ending darkness.
And then, in a faint, fleeting moment of relief, a thought popped up. “I’ve got nothing to lose”. At first he treated the thought like all others, vehemently ignoring it. His thoughts never did him much good. “I’ve got nothing to lose, it can’t get worse.” It kept tugging at his brain.
And then a second thought, slowly piercing the thick, murky fabric of his mind – “there’s only up from here”. Slow and dim-witted through apparent years of torment and anguish, these two thoughts started circling his brain – “I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
“I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
“I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
“I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
“I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
“I’ve got nothing to lose. The only way is up.”
A faint streak of grey sliced the blackness. A change of pace, however minute. The scream in his throat died.
He opened his eyes and gazed at the world around him. He looked at the different greens in the world, the green of leaves, of grasses and of plants. He looked and saw the yellow of the sunflowers and the hearts of daisies. He saw the rusty red of the earth and the endless blue of the sky. He smiled – there was no black. It was a rebellious smile, one that had to fight to show itself. It broke through the hard muscles of his face, so long wrought with torment. His mind’s eye saw his own foolish crooked grin and burst out laughing. His laugh, rolling like thunder, echoed in the valley down below. A torrent of emotion crashed down on him, a torrent of relief, of joy, of undefined and causeless happiness. He heard the sound of children laughing, their voices teeming with joy.
There he stood, king of his world. His mind’s eye sweeping over valleys and rivers, gorges and canyons. He took to the sky, soaring high over rainforests and swamps, snow-capped mountains and deserts. He flew, he shone and chased the sun. His heart sang with joy. The story of Icarus was never a story on the limitations of man, he realized. The story of Icarus is about a lack of proper adhesives – of proper tools. We’re all capable of flight. It’s all just a matter of perspective. Nothing can stop me now.
Irrational behaviour and thought are commonly seen as cornerstones of craziness and consequently a removal from society. Irrationality is dangerous, because it is unpredictable and unaccountable is what we say. Rational thought and behaviour on the other hand, is what we must always pursue. If it’s not rational it doesn’t make sense and if it doesn’t make sense it’s worthless. Makes sense, right?
But then, he theorized, if we all follow rationality and there is no loss, we would all have ended this farce that we call life long ago. It’s only through irrationality – our fear of death and god and pain, our love for sex and food and other hedonistic pleasures – that we’re still alive. Our extreme talent for forgetting the hardships, that’s what allows us to pull through. Any man claiming to be rational has to see that Life is an inexorable march towards Death. No man’s life is a constant upward spiral, we all experience ups and downs. Some downs may be as minor as a hangover or a lost sports match, others are much graver. We’ve all dealt with the loss of a friend or a family member or had our fair share of other drama.
No, life must be only for the irrational, and those daring or stupid enough to brave the constant drudgery in search for nuggets of happiness. Our fear of death is the greatest stupidity of all.
Death is the end of suffering and the end of happiness too. The definitive end of life, consciousness and everything we are. It’s our get-out-of-jail card. Why do we fear death? Death is the liberator, both in it being the end of our suffering, but also during life. It is the knowledge that there’s always an end, a cure of sorts, waiting for us. It is in fact the greatest gift ever to be bestowed upon us. A life that is without meaning, a life that is a blank page, can then be seen as a blank canvas. Paint, artist, paint! Explore, experiment, create, live LIFE! Make mistakes, enjoy, do good – and when you’ve had enough, die. Death is there, waiting, ready, the Great Liberator! Death is not cloaked, death is not hallow, death is not the Grim Reaper. Death is the sandman, the bringer of eternal dreamless sleep. Death is the redeemer of the sweet unconsciousness there was before birth. Death is absolute freedom, a definite solution for anything and everything.
Freed from the chains of life, he soared higher and higher. His blood pumped through his body like gushing torrents of happiness. A whole new feeling took hold of him, a feeling of invincibility. Never in his life had he felt anything remotely like this. A great burden had been lifted from his shoulders and he looked at the world anew. A playground. Life is in fact a game, he realized. Here we are, taking everything way too seriously, while it is nothing more but a game. You get only one try, unfortunately, but if you mess up no worries… there’s always your get-out-of-jail card. Invincibility within certain limits, that’s what that is.
Deliciously delirious, he sat down on the beach. Irrationalism, my truest friend. Beauty, my newfound lover. Sunset at the beach, a manifestation of all that life has to offer and needs to be. He leaned back and slipped his fingers in the cool sand. He breathed in and out… and his fingers touched… sheets. Sheets? Dumbfounded, he clutched his hands. Sheets? Cotton? He glanced stupidly around him? Beach? The only thing he saw was a white wall, blank. Where’s the ocean? Where’s the sun? The only light in this room came from a fluorescent tube hanging on the ceiling. Where the fuck was he?
And in a sudden gush of horrifying truth, it all came back to him. All at once, the knowledge flooded him and drowned him.
And screamed and fought.
And screamed, fought and cried. And wished he was dead.
And then a drowsy sleep took over.
“That one’s Jack, be kind and say ‘hello’ to him”. Rebeccah motioned her new colleague to come forward. “He may look a little intimidating at first, but he’s a sweetheart, aint ya Jack?” “A sweetheart”, Jack said, as he screwed up his face and showed a crooked little grin. “Oh yes…”, he added, almost pensively. Or could Jenny see a swift flicker of a devilish gleam in his eyes? She couldn’t tell.
“And what about that one?”, Jenny asked as they walk onward, trying desperately to manoeuvre the conversation to a less discomforting subject. “He looks quite serene, asleep at this early hour of the evening.” “Oh, he’s not asleep”, Rebeccah answered. “He’s heavily sedated.” “Really”, failing to hide the surprise in her voice, “what for?” “Oh, he’s quite a handful that one. Remember that shriek we heard about half an hour ago? That was him.” Jenny almost couldn’t believe it. But then again, no one in this psych ward really was what he looked like at first glance. “What did he do”, she asked. “Well, we’ve been going through roughly the same routine with him for years now”, Rebeccah responded. “Must be getting close to fifteen years now, I reckon. In the morning it’s all charms and smiles with that, happily grinning that foolish little grin of his. Then trouble starts. Today he made an utter mess of the bathroom, much to Nurse McGray’s chagrin. Then he refused his lunch, seemingly in panic. She continued, “the afternoons he usually spends muttering to himself, for hours and hours on it. No one can get through to him when he does that, except for Nurse Esmeralda. Small wonder, she’s gorgeous. But he got cross with her too today. The afternoon he invariably spends muttering to himself, repeating the same unintelligible sounds over and over and over again.” “Sounds like a real charmer, this one” Jenny replied. “Well, we tolerate him. Have to. He has a very unusual condition”, Rebeccah said in a lowered voice, that hinted of dark secrets. “We think it has something to do with the accident he has had, and his records show he’s always been…” she paused for a moment, looking at the man she had been treating for ten years now, “unstable”. Adding, “we know less about the human mind than we like to think, and we know virtually nothing about his mind in particular.” Rebeccah fell silent then and stared in the distance with unseeing eyes.
Jenny suddenly recalled her colleague’s earlier words, and asked in disbelief “and you said something about going through the same routine? What did you mean?”.
Rebeccah didn’t answer at once, struggling for words.
Jenny stared at her colleague in horror and disbelief.
He always grows gloomy in the afternoon, muttering to himself for hours on end. Nurse Esmeralda is the only one that occasionally gets through to him, although he got course with her too today. Then, more often than not, as the evening falls he panics and we have to restrain him.”
“And by restraining him”, Jenny replied, “you mean sedating him?” And, suddenly recalling Rebeccah’s earlier words, added with shock “and he goes through this every day? How awful!”
Slowly but surely, he made his way through the diminishing darkness. Although he had been hiking for a few hours already, the first shy rays of the new day’s sun urged him onwards. A feint feeling of recognition crept up on him….