Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Who can say?

Who can say that life's bitterest nightmares are not but its sweetest dreams unfulfilled, that life's darkest nights are not but its brightest horizons viewed as through a photo negative? Who can say that the heart of most lives is not but a series of loosely joined decisions made to justify one inescapable past decision, a mosaic of tiles aligned by all means with one primordial, now nonnegotiable, tile on the path of life? Who can say that this step, and the next, and then the next, are not just premeditated shadows of a stance, even a happenstance, portrayed, in resolute retrospect, as a wise and lasting decision? Who can say when looking at life through windows stained with a beautiful dream ends, and looking at life through a hallowed photo-negative from the past begins?

And who can say that pinpointing the past's one submerged anchor, the one ever-sinking, never-shifting tile, is not the key to unlock the secret of each present moment? Who can not see that everything following that one inalterable footprint in our past is but one complex maneuver to justify its placement in stone? Who may not find in the awareness of a granite past the first lesson in unraveling the intricate yet monomaniacal series of actions we call daily life? Who will fail to see that long knot of forward leaps and backward staggering is but one long argument to lionize, or at least to exonerate, the fabric out which it is spun and to glorify, or at least to shroud, the hook on which it sways? Exhausted and humiliated by constantly revising our lives, we may suddenly begin devising our lives based on a shrouded image we choose to call self-respect.

Our freedom, foibles, taste and terrors are but the images that best align with, and brighten, that smoky negative image we call regret. The ego is but that image projected in reverse from the past into the future, moment by moment, frame by flickering frame. We choose to play on a large, enduring scale -- on the big screen of life -- the role, which the microcosm of a decision cast for us. What the moving image reveals is the dual error of confusing being good with having a good life and, in turn, having a good life with making good on every part of our lives. Seated in the dark theater of our souls, we become hypnotized by the images of a past that we insist should have a better, more explicable place in our lives. Once a point of regret, or even of initially insignificant circumstance, is transmuted into a matter of principle, then even a skipping record can be called melodious and even vice can be labeled as goodness. For what really counts under this baffling spell is authenticity and consistency, as long as they apply to one's self. The magical error is rectified by remembering that regret is sometimes a healthy purgative, indeed, sometimes a means of liberation from what too easily becomes a hegemonic, self-justifying act of sheer will once upon a time.

We are, most of us, living desperately to explain, understand, unearth -- or, then again, perhaps to dilute and annihilate -- decisions we no longer have a choice but to make our own. It only takes one decision, of a certain intoxicating quality, falling in a certain fertile time, striking at a precisely crippling angle, to set in motion the remainder of a life, whereupon one is thenceforth committed with blind ambition to prove, to one's self as much as to others, how his life is not explained by, not subject to, a past decision, but rather is committed to reconstituting it, in clever hindsight, as one's intention all along. May it not be that from our most mundane scrabbling to our most valiant achievements, we are in fact simply trying to look ourselves in the mirror with a lens that finally unscrambles the image we bent into a certain shape some time before, some because-and-thus ago? Gazing into this mirror, who can regard any action as empty and meaningless when it is bursting with the desire to explain itself, and, if not the whole world, at least a whole life, in light of an irrevocable shift in the winds that we chose to follow long ago? Then again, who can see in any human action but a hollow, dessicated corpse of freedom, when we realize every moment is vampirized by the haunting awareness that you are what you, you do what you do, you reject what you reject, simply in order not to retrace your way and not to have to replace that incorrigible, inaugural tile?

The sense we make of our lives may not in fact make sense, given the sometimes arbitrary bases it tries to build from, but making sense of our selves -- predicating our purpose on our predicaments -- is unavoidable. One may either direct life towards a pristine, but indefinitely delayed, goal . . . or lead it out, like a rope unfurling, frayed, into the briny depths of mortality, as consistently and with as much decorum as possible from a starting point one feels obliged to make one's own. At some point, a decision, or even a failure to decide, takes on disproportionate significance in the story of our lives, and every page after that cannot but be embossed with the same theme, the same image, if only that we can read our life as one, coherent, progressive tale. Pick your plate, and press, then, with care.

-- Elliam Fakespeare

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