"I want to live.
I just want to live."
At the end of the Martin Scorsese film After Hours we are greeted with a frantic and changed main character. We have watched him go through a night where everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong for him. At the end he is resigned. He staggers into the club he ran out of earlier and finds peace and quiet. He approaches the only woman in the place and tries to make conversation. He drops his last quarter into the jukebox, lights a cigarette, and tells the woman he just wants someone to talk to who will listen without attacking him. He just wants a moment of peace and sanity. He just wants to live. Griffin Dunne's Paul Hackett becomes the everyman who reaches his breaking point and reaches out for something to hold onto. The oasis comes to an end, however, and soon he is back behind his desk at his boring and unfulfilling job, staring out into the nothingness.
Most people have not been through the type of trauma that can dramatically change your perspective on life. Things happen we believe are traumas, but there is a difference between being driven to the very edge of yourself and your sanity and the little traumas that litter our daily lives. I remember a wise old man once telling me that we never really change until we come within a fraction of a second of total self-destruction.
I have seen people completely changed when they return from war. I have seen a good friend completely changed as a result of his responsibility for a motorcycle accident killing his wife. I have seen a man changed from watching his infant daughter die in his arms. I saw a woman changed after her blind desire for cocaine led to prostituting herself and getting beat up badly by three strangers who wanted to party. These are the hard, blind traumas for which we have no rational response. We instead dive deep into the self, knowing we cannot survive this and then have to change in order to go on. It is following traumas of these sorts that we learn how to live and understand what it means to live.
In my youth I embraced all sorts of causes and trumpeted the need to change the way people lived and went about their business. I believed in some sort of "greater good" that could be imposed upon people "who didn't know better." I didn't understand why I met so many brick walls. These people laughed at my young, naive ass because I was telling them I knew what was best for them and for the world. People shouldn't be allowed to do things that are bad for them, I said because I wanted to help make the world a better place. My head was up my ass because I just didn't know any better. Tunnel vision is not an answer. You have to see the whole playing field and all the players. You have to experience what they have experienced before you can tell them what is best for them. These days, fewer and fewer people realize that because fewer and fewer people have learned their lesson. You don't help people by trying to change the world and the way everyone lives. You help people in only one way. You help them directly. Otherwise you are presuming to know better and you probably don't.
Ah, to live,
and paint the sky with colors I call my own.
I saw these teenage boys the other day. They were around fifteen and wearing the latest in Tommy Hilfiger. They were taunting an old drunken homeless man and telling him to "get a job." Then daddy pulled up in front of the 7-11 in his BMW to drive them home.
It is natural as human beings to try to make ourselves feel better about our lot in life by downgrading others. Yet, do we really know how to live? Do we know what this life is for? Those that have never faced real hardship or trauma fill themselves with "just causes." They need something to believe in, so they put effort into setting the world right. They become missionaries of their own belief systems. They send ten dollars to a group that promises to feed starving children in Somalia or expose evil corporations that are operating nasty sweat shops overseas. They feel righteous. They feel better about themselves than they do about the guy standing to the right of them. "I helped stopped chemical testing on animals!" Then they throw blood on the fur coat a lady just bought and go home and eat a salad on which appear poor little radishes that were raised in slavery and tormented with fertilizer before being savagely chopped free of the earth.
It all comes down to finding your perspective. It is all about figuring out who you are and where you want to go. When you are all too concerned about how other people live their lives and stopping their sins against humanity and themselves, then you have lost sight of yourself. He who is without sin is allowed to throw the first stone. Everyone puts their rocks down when the moment of clarity hits them. They are truly no better than their neighbor. They just have sins of a different kind and some sins are more easily hidden than others. The purest form of sin is avoiding yourself and hiding yourself in things that don't really matter. You are sweating the small stuff and not realizing it is all small stuff in the end, except for the kind of person you are to yourself and others. There is no just cause that involves interfering with the way other people want to live.
Figure out what it means to you. Wander aimlessly. Stare up at the sky. Figure out what you really want. Don't let other people tell you that you want. Don't worry about the standards. Don't accept less than what you want because you're afraid to reach higher. Don't be afraid to fail. Don't be afraid to succeed. Succeed and fail. Then fail and succeed. Don't worry about satisfying anyone other than yourself, because in the end, if you aren't satisfied and you aren't happy, you won't be able to help others get there. You'll be an example of misery and anger and sorrow that is no good to anyone, except of course the bank account of the next just cause you contribute to when you get the urge to feel a little better.
It isn't as easy as all that.
Why else do you think we have decades to figure it out?