The Unbearable Grandness of Being
Sometimes it is really hard to break out of your own self.
Maybe humans are selfish by design, maybe it tickles god to see us so wrapped up in our little lives and our even littler thoughts while the great oceans flow far and wide, waves cresting and falling like the even breath of a sleeping baby, regular and peaceful, or toiling and rolling angry tumultuous dark like a heart broken by someone you loved more than perhaps you should have.
And while we huddle in our beds, worrying about bills and wrinkles, about how staidly tiring it is to have to think about what to make for dinner every day, the world goes moving on, revolving at a tilt, careless and nonchalant, beautiful and grand and terrible... And while we drive to work every day, stuck in our personal webs and mulling over everything from the mundane worries of piling laundry to the more grave fears of our parents growing old, from the little irritations of overbearing bosses or stains on the table mat that won’t wash out to the more painful anxiety of a child who keeps falling ill or a spouse who seems to grow more distant every day, and yet the wind blows unabashed through the tall solemn trees, if only they knew, she thinks as she dances through thick green leaves, tugging some loose to put in her invisible hair, if only they knew, how small they are in the grand scheme of things ...
To the mountains that loom thousands of feet above, their ragged peaks strong in the cold brittle air of the heavens (air so cold and sharp you could break off a piece like ice), to the miles and miles of hot desert sand that has been sticking to the soles of men for centuries, quietly witnessing the birth and death of millions, to the stars in the sky that died several years ago but continue to shimmer on in a time lapse, humans must seem so ridiculous – or maybe they don’t notice us at all, maybe we’re as insignificant to them as the motes of dust that circle around us, invisible.
We spend our lives struggling for balance, as individuals and as a larger society, we put in all our energy fighting for something only to achieve it and let it take over us, and then suddenly realising we have to fight our own creations – be it weapons or medication or food or technology. Somehow, we always seem to overdo it, causing suffering not just to humans but the larger environment.
I find it hard not to be righteous. When something goes wrong, small or big (in the grand scheme of one in 7.6 billion people), I find it hard not to get sucked in the quicksand of self-pity, and when you’re wallowing in the sad softness of your bed, wrapping your blankets around you in a tearful soliloquy of ‘I deserve better’, it is easy for the enormous world with its 6,000 languages and 60,000 species of trees (did you know the tallest tree in the world is some 370+ feet high?), its beautiful stretches of white sand and blue seas, its tragedies of war and famine and poverty and its beauty of laughing babies and embracing couples, it all just dissipates, fading away into the distance like a speeding train, till at last you stand by yourself by the empty railway tracks, completely alone with yourself.
It is easy to ask ‘why me’ when something bad happens – maybe you broke your ankle on the first day of your holiday, or your younger sister spilt hot coffee on your electric guitar – it could be more serious too, maybe your aunt was diagnosed with cancer or maybe you discover that you can’t have children – you can pick your misfortune from the grand scale of broken toenails to broken hearts to broken spines.
At the end of the day, many (if not most) of us would wonder why it had to happen to us, we’re good people, we don’t deserve this, a hundred million whys that prick our hearts and choke our throats, squeezing our heads in a tight vise and darkening our souls, streaming down in tears and snot, vacillating between piteous sadness and indignant virulent anger.
Relationships too are more difficult these days.
While the generation of our mothers and grandmothers lived a life of peaceful submission, in a contented sadness they probably never even recognised as sadness and accepted as simply and fully as they accepted that the sun rises from the east and that their husbands will never wash dishes, never questioning the inequality of their households, waking up before their men and working longer hours to cook, clean, buy groceries, raise their children and never complaining, never being acknowledged, always putting everyone else above them, loving their children with a selflessness that no longer exists because really, we have finally realised that we need to care about ourselves before we can care about others.
That wasn’t happiness, we argue, the older generation just accepted life as it was without questioning their values and rights and rituals ... but sometimes I wonder if they were happier because of this acceptance and resignation and submission, because doesn’t that mean they were less busy struggling and fighting and questioning and so they could enjoy their present – the warm comfortable smell of baking bread, the clasp of their first daughter’s hand around their finger, the camaraderie of relatives and neighbours over shared meals, the pride of watching their son graduate college ...
We now believe that we ALL deserve so much better – we deserve to follow our dreams of a career in marketing, we deserve ‘me-time’, we deserve a break from our parents and siblings and partners and children, we deserve a vacation and we deserve to buy new shoes to dull that undiagnosed ache that keeps us up at night.
We deserve equality and respect and love – the kind that matches our perceptions of equality and respect and love, shaped by Hollywood movies and Facebook where love blooms in green fields and matching checked shirts, spelled out with hash tags so that everyone understands that your life is the best, your child the smartest and your husband the sweetest –
And just like that, life has now become so much harder, there is so much more strife because equality and respect and love don’t grow on short trees for us to pluck off easily – and because our parents and siblings and partners and children aren’t willing for us to put ourselves first because that means that they will be second now or maybe even third or fourth, because this means that they might not have a daughter who chooses to study in an inferior college just so she can live in the same house with them, they might not have a sister who decides to forgo buying a violin so he can attend a camp for talented athletes, that they might not have a mother who is there to drop them off to school in the mornings because she’s already in office, that they may not have a wife who ignores their indiscretions because she no longer believes that her integrity is worth less than the cohesiveness of the family unit.
And where there is strife, there is struggle, and where there is struggle, there is discontent.
And because we deserve so much better we are seldom satisfied with what we have, and without satisfaction there is not much peace. And it can get so tiring, so exhausting to always be struggling.
Don’t get me wrong. There is no nostalgia for a past I was never part of. Neither am I arguing against this struggle – it is essential to reach that balance we never seem to quite strike. I am, on the other hand, wondering about a less self-involved view of life.
And it isn’t easy (at least not for me though there do seem to be people who are always happy, like this cleaning lady at work who always has a smile to spare and a ‘hullo how do you do beautiful day innit!’ demeanour that soothes and causes great envy simultaneously), but it is definitely a struggle worth engaging in – remembering how small you are in the grand scheme of things, how people all over the world have the same or worse problems as you do, and that you are not special enough to be that one person in the universe for whom life will be perfect, without challenges and sorrows. That there is absolutely no point in asking ‘why me’ because really, why not? Why not you rather than the sweet old lady who sits in her wheelchair all day long and stares at the leaves falling from the mulberry tree in the courtyard? Why not you rather than your best friend? The question of who deserves sadness and misfortune is not relevant. That’s just life and there is too much you just don’t have control over, so when shit happens, just breathe and keep going.
Because once you realise the grandness of life – the trees the bees the mountains and valleys and the desolate brave wind that screeches over the moorlands – once you realise that you’re not that special, you’ll be so much stronger.