The space in between

Overhead power line underneath starry night sky

The Mediterranean sun sure livens things up and you’ll often hear a domestic squabble, schoolkids running riot or a fit of road rage through a car window. The locals roll their eyes, chuckle or make the most of it in some other familiar way. But me, I’m barely a spectator. Nothing really registers. Self-awareness awakens only at the sound of the evening traffic as it sputters and slowly fades into the silence of the night. As I sit here, there’s a dog on the other side of the street barking and whimpering incessantly in the dark. I wonder if neglect has left it trying in vain to claw back some meaning from its fate.

But I’m not one to dwell in melancholy, I prefer to follow Lennon’s lead. Besides, I made peace with solitude a long time ago. The meandering is to introduce a contemplative feel in this post because that kind of a mood was bound to set in after many weeks of keeping a work-oriented routine; (things are running smoothly on that front but you can’t exactly live it up on a computer screen). I’ve been thinking about introspection itself and how its value has been lost amid all the emotional dead ends of modern life. A state of detachment allows the mind to wander off into loneliness and worse, but every cloud has a silver lining, the beauty of which can’t be found in a clear sky. I’ve always thought that the sunshine bleaches some of our most prized assets if we’re not careful, and how brilliant can a smile really be without a soul?

I recently tuned into a radio station they have over here for the British forces, for the first time too, and I caught them playing a song by The Police. I turned it up right away and I’m glad I made the most of it because it was only a blip in the usual stream of commercialized crap. It’s what got me writing this post. It was one of those little moments that stick in the memory, the reason being that it punctured the humdrum and general gloom. I realized a few things. Firstly, if I was in a better mood then it probably would’ve slipped my mind. Secondly, the song was ‘King of Pain’ and it occurred to me that creativity is fueled by life’s challenges—does ‘a picture-perfect life’ even make sense? And thirdly, there’s no better way of conquering the hardship than to use it the way that artists do—they’re all kings of pain in that respect. As I say, the mind easily wanders.

There’s only more thinking to do as you grow older, especially if you don’t get a break somewhere in your twenties. And there it is, there’s no avoiding it—age. Surely, it’s the number one cause of downheartedness. In my mid-teens I once asked my maths teacher at the time what it means to grow up, just out of the blue at the end of an afternoon class (yeah, I don’t think either of us saw that coming!) I remember he cowered slightly at the question (I don’t think it was just my forthrightness), but after a moment’s pause he gave me a short, self-assured answer, something along the lines of, ‘there’s more responsibility’. Wise in more ways than one, I think; most kids would guess as much but the thing with responsibility is that the word becomes more loaded the older you get.

The notion of lost innocence is another interesting one. I always found it very peculiar how even hardened, godless men appeared lumbered with a guilty sentence handed down by some mysterious moral authority. But I’ve come to learn, as I guess we all do, that growing up is really about getting pushed off the fence where we once happily sat—and then often free-falling into nowhere. And that isn’t to ignore the part that guilt plays in all this…

Still, I’ve found that responsibility is a gift as much as it is a burden, underappreciated because of how hard it gets to let go of our mistakes. So I wonder, what if self-forgiveness weren’t so elusive… can you ‘Imagine’? It’s the missing piece. I could simply tell you that it’s there to be found but I don’t wish to become the object of scorn. And you know, that’s the really sad part—things get so hard that we give up on the good and make the bad worse instead. The world in black and white will never look right but on we persist with such a mentality, even kidding ourselves into denial, because ‘the truth’ is a must-buy, whatever the cost. That’s why art is anything but namby-pamby. It’s where it all starts. Sure, it’s where it all ends too in most cases, but isn’t that yet another shortcoming of ours?

Perhaps it’s the diversity of my ethnic background but I’ve always felt removed from the ‘zeitgeist’, those attitudes and trends that mark the passage of time, like I’m living in some kind of time warp. Certainly, my solitary lifestyle in recent years can only add to that. And in spite of the downsides, I reckon this has also saved me the usual malaise of adulthood for the most part, given that I’m still raring to pick up where I left off as a fresh-faced hopeful. If I’m right then there’s good reason to suggest that the confusion all around has little to do with biology—it seems to me that it’s mostly a matter of social expectation. Norms shaped by the aforementioned viscous cycle saddle us with a bum deal: play along and turn that wheel faster or quit and get kicked from the team.

Not everything’s bleak off the beaten track and some of the best stuff can be found there. The rub, however, is that the better the finds the more lacking a connection with the wider world becomes. A recluse eventually learns that the good stuff isn’t worth half as much if it isn’t shared, which is no easy thing to do in this world. And that’s what the coming of age means to me: the realization of this ‘space in between’. Personally, it’s far more dispiriting than any lost innocence ever was. But I’m not ready to give up any time soon and pass up the chance to at least try to give something back; surely, it’s what makes it all worth it.

You’re an interesting species. An interesting mix. You’re capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you’re not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we’ve found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.

― Carl Sagan, Contact

Incidentally, I bumped into that Cypriot gentleman again a couple of days ago. Right off the bat it was all, ‘so are you going to stay here?’ and then, ‘how old are you again—well then it’s time you started a family here’. He’s got a point on the family bit but to that I always say, if it happens, it happens; those things are not practicalities you should plan for, not in my book anyway. I did do my best to get back to our previous conversation. Perhaps he was busy but he didn’t seem that interested—as soon as I mentioned the word ‘wonder’ he came back with, ‘well, you’re still young’. Suits me.

 

Photo by Andrew E Weber

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