May 18, 2013 by talkaboutyork
The internet – Facebook in particular, but twitter, pinterest, youtube, blogs & co. all play their parts – can make it feel as though we live life in a Hallmark store. Whether deep and meaningful, inspirational, witty, sarcastic or just plain funny, we are surrounded by quotes and pictures and videos and opinions that make us smile, laugh, reflect or think. Much of it is just noise. Nothing more than a brief distraction before we continue our busy day.
But sometimes, just occasionally, you see something that stops you in your tracks and forces you to think. Hours later you might find yourself still thinking about it. And you go back and look at the thing again because it has resonated so much.
That happened to me this week. I saw this video which I urge you to watch.
It is complex. And sometimes hard to understand. But the key premise that I take away from it is that in life, with all of its mundanity and repetition and annoyances, we have a choice. A choice to operate on our default setting of putting ourselves first, or, to choose that life isn’t all about us. And that by doing that, it might make those tedious life moments not only bearable but profound. It is about awareness, rather than simple existence.
Children are very me, me, me. They cannot understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Their universe is small. And they are at the centre of it. Parents will recognise this when they hear their children say things like:
‘Why do I have to clear the table?’ (because you ate the meal and I cooked it)
‘Why do you get to go out and we just have to be with the babysitter?’ (because we’re entitled to a life)
‘I’m bored.’ (my job is not to provide entertainment 24/7)
‘It’s not fair.’ (life often isn’t)
Or as my own son said to me yesterday: ‘Why are you dressed up and wearing lipstick? What is in it THAT for me? Nothing, that’s what? You get to go out and you expect ME to pick up my toys!’ (I really don’t even know where to go with that one)
I want them to learn this message. That they have a choice- that the world isn’t out to get them. The world is the way it is and everyone shares it. They can choose how they want to perceive it. Good grief, it’s not just my kids, I want adults to learn this. I want to put it into practice more often myself. It’s too easy to operate on auto pilot, getting angry in the traffic, snapping at the post office clerk, walking past the homeless man in the street thinking that you won’t give him any spare change because he’ll just spend it on booze. Hell, I like to have a drink at the end of a day and I’m not having to deal with the horror of being homeless. If he wants a drink to get through his miserable life, why shouldn’t he have one?
I was so intrigued by the key message coming out of this speech that I went and read the full transcript. What came to light – shockingly – was that the speech was actually a suicide note that no-one realised. The author ended the speech saying this:
‘The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness — awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: “This is water, this is water.” It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.’
He went on to kill himself. I found this incredibly depressing. That a man who could inspire so many people, making them more aware, less me me me focused, was overcome by life around him. I had this whole blog post written up in my head and then I read this and felt let down. I almost didn’t write the post. Feeling like the man was a fraud all along.
But then I realised. I have a choice. I can choose to let his actions depress me and make me wallow in self pity about how life is hard and can get the wisest of people down. Or I could choose to select the bits from his speech that really resonated with me and carry those forward.
I choose the latter.
Yesterday I sat in horrific traffic to get to a supermarket to stand in a long queue where some foreign ladies had a box of eggs. One of the eggs was broken and the lady on the till was trying to explain that they’d get them a new box and they didn’t understand her and the whole thing took ages. I was late for a lunch date and could feel my automatic response, my default me me me setting, kicking in. But I made a decision to consciously change that. I saw those poor women who couldn’t speak English buying food in a foreign supermarket and I laughed at myself imaging how well I’d get on in a supermarket in Taiwan. So that by the time it got to my turn at the till, I was smiling broadly. The lady on the till apologised for the wait and I said: ‘It doesn’t matter.’ And meant it.
So to David Foster Wallace, I’m sorry that life consumed you. But I thank you for the reminder that we have the privilege to be able to make a choice about how we want to view life. It’s a gift. It’s up to us how we use it.