These eyes, witnesses to the miracle of birth and the devestation of untimely death, these ears, sonic scribes of past, present, and future whispered secrets, unbridled laughter, and passionate cries, these feet, seasoned athletes never yielding to an ever evolving terrain, these hands, time worn messengers to the generations of impressionable minds still to follow, now gliding over perforated pages of recycled arbor and ink, have existed for mere decades, a fraction in astronomical terms, a brief moment of faint incandescence burning defiantly against the existential vastness of space and time. Yet, from a journey of such infinitesimal proportions, revelation, discovery, and enlightenment of magnitude both great and small have been spawned. Their origins span the divide stretching from the unconscious to the conscious mind. As the body lay in silent slumber, an intricate web of neurons transmitting electrical signals formulates a seemingly indecipherable series of images in an attempt to reconcile past events or apprehensions of the future. Through this nocturnal laboring of the unconscious mind one's eyes are opened, so to speak. The iron curtain of daily trivial matters is pulled back and the sunlight of truth shines upon a once darkened perception.
Revelation, however, has never confined itself to the dreamworld of Freudian thought. Deeply rooted in conversations with kindred spirits, concerning the meaning of life and its aspects that continue to allude our comprehension, are my greatest moments of self-discovery. Perhaps my most profound awakening was given birth through heated debate within the halls of ivy. It was late summer and the oppressive heat of the midday sun could spark fiery intolerance within the soul of a saint a moment's notice. For several months I had been employed at the Harvard Law School by the Department of Facilities Management. With classes on recess there were many days when work orders were scarce. Aside from the occasional box delivery or the rearranging of a professor's office, my good friend, Dave, and I would pass the time contemplating life, debating global issues, or simply dreaming of our future fame and success as screenwriters.
One quiet afternoon, while mulling over a cup of coffee in the break room, Dave and I stumbled upon an article in the Boston Globe. The headline read, "Young woman dies in tragic suicide." She had leapt to certain death from the twenty fourth floor of her downtown apartment building. Having lost a former girlfriend to suicide less than a year prior, this tragic tale struck within me a dissonant chord of residual pain. Unable to continue reading the article, I gently placed the newspaper on the coffee table. Conflicting emotions swarmed furiously beneath my breast. Without uttering a single word I turned to Dave and his eyes seemed to study the sadness permeating from my own. Unnerving silence soon gave way to the typical debate our workdays could not go without. Both disturbed and intrigued by this recent news of this young woman's death, we began debating the issue of depression among American youth and the increasing rate of anti-depressant use. Dave felt as though the prevalance of depression in this country and the subsequent over prescribing of anti-depressants were unwarranted, that this depressed American youth was pampered aristocracy who would cut their wrists having acquired sand in their shoes. His words, callous and devoid of pity, rendered me speechless. His flagrant complacency to the plight of millions invaded my soul like an unholy spirit. Frighteningly familiar was its malevolence, an evil from the darkness of my past.
We, the self-proclaimed pinnacle of evolution, masters of earth, sea, and sky, sovereign stewards of the natural order by divine right, distant kin of the australopithicus africanus, the youngest constituent in an ancient lineage predating civilization, through millenia of death and rebirth, scientific advancement and spiritual enlightenment, have achieved existence far surpassing that once present upon our ancestral stomping grounds, now classified by modern man as sub-Saharan Africa. Undoubtedly superior is humankind in its current mold. Opposable thumbs and the power of invention have catapulted our species into a reality untouched by the presaging of ancient prophets. Yet the very resilience and ingenuity that defines our superiority is a double edged sword inflicting deep lacerations in the flesh of our vanity. What may in fact be our greatest strength has in turn become our most deleterious weakness. As Lewis Thomas has observed, "Although we are by all odds the most social of all social animals - more interdependent, more attached to each other, more inseperable in our behavior than bees - we do not often feel our conjoined intelligence" (Lives of a Cell).
It has ever been the concern of humankind to insure the longevity of the individual, to retain the vital heat, to achieve success at all costs. As time progresses, so do the demands upon the individual. Often times we find ourselves being tossed amidst a stormy sea of trivial matters. What is perceived to be of monumental significance triggers a metamorphosis from man to beast. The inherent primate in hibernation beneath the cover of an enlarged cerebral cortex awakens. The issues of others are no longer of consequence to the individual. Survival does not empathize nor does it offer assistance. Survival is blind to the tears of another and likewise deaf to their cries.
As I struggled with the words of my good friend, the walls of the break room appeared to slowly converge upon my position. Sweat ran profusely from every pore in my body and a sinking feeling clutched my heart with piercing claws. Suddenly, like a cat backed into a corner, I swung at Dave with a fistful of judgement.
"How could you be so callous as to dimiss the suffering of so many?" I asked. "What authority do you possess on the subject at hand that would allow you to pass such judgement?"
At that moment, in all my anger and frustration, it occurred to me that not so long ago my perspective had mirrored his from every angle. As I battled with depression and a severe dependency upon narcotics, my eyes were blind to the tears streaming down my lover's face, my ears deafened to her cries for help. What I lacked in compassion I surely compensated for with bitter indifference. Ashamed at this realization I became silent, receding back into my chair, hoping to seep into the fabric, as not to be seen. Surely this is not the culmination of eighteen years of self-evolution, I thought to myself.
Several months prior to this earth shattering revelation, I had received my high school diploma, ready to embark upon a new chapter in the book of life. I knew that there was so much more to learn, so much more to see and yet the troublesome voice of a newly healed self-esteem stood like a devil upon my shoulder, whispering fallacies that threatened to corrupt all the wisdom for which so much had been sacrificed. Replaying every adversity behind these distant eyes, my conscience reverted to its prerequisite narcissism. Life, I thought, had dealt me countless blows and yet I stood unscathed. I was an impenetrable fortress. I had acquired knowledge far beyond my years. It was this paradigm that lent me the false pretense which I used in judgement of Dave's perspective. I am neither better nor worse than he. His indifference was my indifference. My indifference was that of all humankind.
Thomas, Lewis. Lives of a Cell.
The Indifference of Survival by Joshua Alan Blodgett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at verboseprose86.blogspot.com.