Sudden and Unexpected

A received a tearful call tonight informing me that the young son of a family friend had been killed in a car accident earlier this afternoon.

We weren’t close yet in these moments all I can remember are the days when we were both at school. I was a few years older and asked to look out for him when he started big school. He never needed looking out for, he was far savvier than I ever was even at that young age.

I think about the lessons taken from Marcus Aurelius and the philosophers and wonder if in the face of sudden and unexpected death we can ever truly practice what we preach. It’s a twisting of the gut that I can’t rationalize.

Einstein said that there is no death – not really. All of space and time were created all at once; destiny is and was always set in stone. There is no death because as we travel across this oceanic landscape of space-time, nothing is ever really gone. We all have been dead for trillions of years and are yet to be born for aeons more. Is that comforting to say or to feel?

A little distance perhaps from the immediate family affords me the privilege of a little naval gazing rather than crying. While millions across the world – and billions throughout history – have lost a child, the reality of it still doesn’t strike as logical or aligned with some natural order of things.

What is the natural order of things?

I was in a bar yesterday discussing happiness with a man who, in a past life, found himself living with Buddhist monks.

“What is happiness?” – X

“Fulfilment I suppose, an acceptance.” – Z

“What is acceptance?” – X

Well? What is acceptance?

When we are happy, we can say nothing affects us, or we’d all be taken with the wind like a limp tree. Yet what is acceptance? Is it accepting people on the bus playing music too loud or is it acceptance with the blind faith of the natural order that would kill a young man barely twenty with a bright future?

Marcus Aurelius writes that the griever’s problem is not mine since I would be carried away with the same grief. Yet apathy is the enemy of humanity, and we live for each other and mourn for each other the same way.

It’s an interesting conundrum and an emotional tightrope walk.

I feel loss, that’s perhaps the only way I can describe my emotions. It’s a hollow cold feeling. It pulls downwards like a heavy crown of ice. My feelings don’t bother me though.

The well-being of his parents bothers me.

Another futile projection perhaps. I’m miles away and neither my presence nor words could bring much comfort.

While being both sudden and unexpected, loss brings a minefield of conflicting thoughts and emotions. I suppose then, we can never truly be prepared beyond our own impressions of what could be.

Loss. Such a familiar word and experience to humanity yet so sudden and unexpected every time.

I have no final words of wisdom nor concluding sign-off. I’ve yet to come to any conclusion on how to react or feel appropriately. Perhaps when I figure it out I’ll add an addendum.

What Can You Do?

I was reading today that the Loire in France is drying up in places and that three nuclear power plants rely on its water for cooling. Sometimes, I think that my urges to play Fallout: New Vegas come not from a deep desire to escape my step-brother’s yellow bell pepper bolognese dinners, but from divine intervention to teach me how to prepare mutant gecko steaks.

As much as we crave individual liberty and the ideals of a libertarian society, human civilisation as we know it is wholly collectivist. Look no further than the gas shortages and the grain blackmail to see that whether we like it or not, humanity relies on each other to survive. So then, I ask, what can the individual do to put not just their mind at ease but also actively impact the world around them?

“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.” – Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight (2008)

Be Batman? Yes but also no.

Latex nipples and gruff voices aside, that quote from The Dark Knight can easily be applied directly to you. Change the word “Batman” to “human” and there you have it. The purpose of individual liberty is laid bare: the choice to make the right choice. Whether that means grinning and baring yellow bell peppers in bolognese or standing on a picket line as the person you voted into office slanders you to millions.

It’s ironic that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy ended up being as strange love letters to authoritarianism and thinly-veiled fascist ideologues.

I suppose in these last few months where the world has seemed to time travel backwards to the Cold War, with nuclear panic and purging of women’s rights, keeping your head seems to be the only real victory worth living for. We may be broke, depressed and suffering through one modern crisis after the next yet we are unbroken still; no matter how hard edgy, rage-fueled cokeheads in office and podcast booths try to destroy all that they do not understand or care about.

“‘No thief can steal your will.’ – So Epictetus.” – Meditations, 11.36

In a time where history tells us we’ve never had it so easy yet the victories of the individual remain the same as they did millennia ago.

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.” – Meditations, 7.69