I think I’ll start off by telling you a story. Once upon a time, there was a person who lived in a glass house in the middle of the sea. One day, this person decided to burn all the bridges leading up to the glass house and it was warm and lovely in the glass house because of all the flames from all the fires surrounding it and though they were all creeping in to engulf the glass house, the warmth of the fires was rather nice and everyone lived happily ever after.
When you are a child, every story you ever hear happened once upon a time and no matter what happens, no matter how impossible the odds are, at the end, everyone always lives happily ever after.
The first time I encountered a narrative in which everyone didn’t live happily ever after was when I was eight. The protagonist, who was a good man, strove against impossible odds to escape from the prison he had been imprisoned in for his participation in the freedom struggle – but was eventually captured and hanged.
I didn’t understand this ending – mostly because I’d grown up on a staple diet of stories where good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people and that was that. It’s probably wrong to bring up children on those stories – because they grow up and realize that the world is nothing like that and are absolutely flummoxed. And rather disillusioned – and sometimes, the confusion and the disillusionment never really leaves.
I mean, the stories that we are told often shape us in ways that we may never really fully understand. They often lend us the lenses through which we see the world – they tell us which role to place ourselves in the narrative of our lives. If the narratives we’ve been told are nothing like the narrative we live in, it’s pretty impossible to reconcile the ensuing conflict.
When you don’t know what to believe in any more, when you’ve lost any moorings of faith that allowed you to interpret the world around you, when the absurdity of the universe in general and your life in particular stares you in the face – what do you do?
When I was a kid, sometimes I’d lie in my bed and sort of play dead and think – right now, right now, someone’s giving their first piano recital, someone’s getting mugged, someone’s getting married, someone’s contemplating suicide, someone’s singing along with the muppets, someone’s blowing out the candles on their birthday cake, someone’s scuba diving, someone’s getting murdered, someone’s wishing on a shooting star, someone’s writing a song, someone’s crying themselves to sleep, someone’s reading a book that will change them forever, someone’s working towards an invention that will alter the course of humanity, someone’s flying a kite, someone’s watching their child take his/her first step, someone’s packing their bags to go on vacation, someone’s trying to count all the stars in the nightsky and so on and so forth until my head began to reel at all the possible somethings that all the possible someones were doing all over the world. Then, it seemed so magical to be part of this expansive scheme of things – all these little things working towards some greater purpose – to a grand narrative. There I was, on my bed, hugging my stuffed rabbit and pondering over these things – contributing in some tiny yet significant way to the running of the universe.
Then, I grew up and learned that the truth is that there is no grand narrative – there is merely the here and the now and even the here and the now are just words and the truth is that all words mean something but no word really means anything.
I would give anything to be that little kid again – to believe in that grand narrative once again – to unread all the existentialism I’ve ever read – to believe that all the confusion and misery and unhappiness that everyone is always going through will finally lead to something that’s actually worth something. I would give anything to believe again that my life and everything I am and do and say, that all of it means something, that all of it is not inconsequential.