Fear No More: One Night in London And Some Verses By Shakespeare
Let us say our character has been sitting on his bed for hours. Let us say he’s been doubting. What if he’s not killed by the pills? What if he ends up trapped in a bed, this time forever?
Let us say that, just like last Monday, he has taken a shower, brushed his hair carefully, put on the clothes that make him look better, filled two bottles of water, entered his room and closed the door. Now, just like last Monday, he holds a box of benzodiazepines in one hand.
Depression again. And medication. And a monstrous loss of energy, purpose and cognitive abilities. Precisely when, after a decade, he seemed closer than ever to achieving everything he has always desired. And this time, after this second grand failure, once he interrupts his current work, he will have nowhere to go, no money at all, no more strength to strive. Or that’s at least what he has come to think. That which depression has made him think, or that which has caused depression, or both.
Let us say he feels that the universe doesn’t want him to have a life, a real life, and that a truth is there to be faced: Time to finally give up. Or is it, again, depression feeling for him?
All his capacity to endure living hells was spent years ago (or so he thinks), and he doesn’t even want it back. His faith in life is broken. He doesn’t want life any more. He rebels against it.
But there’s something else in him. An irrational force. A remaining attachment to being. The attachment of someone able to enjoy consciousness to the fullest, to live intensely, drunk with art, philosophy, exercise, literature, sex, night life, music, teaching, helping, learning, conversing.
Let us say he considers, just like last Monday, deferring the decision and sleeping. Yet he remembers how difficult sleeping was Monday night, his eyes wide open impossible to shut.
Some kind of inner voice warns him: If he spends the night alone, it will be his last night. And let us say that the irrational force takes control, leading him to the street.
The cold strikes his face, slips through the fabrics of various layers of clothes and enters his imperfectly adjusted shoes from their loose top borders. But it isn't worse than the cold inside him. The cold outside is a presence, something with existence, a mass that weighs and interacts with the world. The cold inside is just emptiness, absence of warmth that seems to soak him up from the bones.
And let us say that our character turns around halfway to the hospital. There is no solution there. There is no solution anywhere. There is only one way out of his horror.
He’s sick of so much fighting, of deep frustration, of uncertainty, of suffering. He’s at last completely decided. Nothing can change his mind now. The ultimate freedom awaits back home.
And in this peak of determination, almost reaching home, our character notices joy growing inside, as if some kind of magic was working on him, his body lighter than ever despite his weakness. A smile appears in his face, the pain in his chest is gone. But this is no strange magic. It feels familiar, though he couldn’t say why. Neither does he ask the question.
He could start dancing in the middle of the street. Dancing and singing. Every worry has disappeared. There’s only him, his body and his surroundings, and all of it is beautiful.
Let us say he stands now by a corner in front of his block, looking at its doors and windows, savouring its warm, welcoming, peaceful aura. He looks up at the streetlights, at Bermondsey’s characteristic pots full of flowers hanging from them, he looks at the brick wall right beside him. Colours have never been so intense. The contrast between the sky’s dark blue and the lamplight reflected on the building walls has never been so enthralling. He feels inside one of Van Ghogh’s starry nights. “Everything is illuminated,” everything feels alive.
The good-willed spirit of London, of the world itself, embraces him. He’s present in his own breathing like never before, the cold more vivifying than ever, the air flowing easily into his lungs. And every time they are filled it seems a wondrous but natural blessing, something to thank for even though it is given without request or effort. He raises one hand to caress the wall, enjoying the bricks’ roughness. Surrounded by magic, breathing it, a cheerful sadness overflows in him, sheer placid happiness in sorrow (if that is possible) about to make him cry. Existence, depression even, has never felt so weightless, so enchanting, so perfect. He’s finally at peace.
Life can definitely be beautiful. Not his life but, anyway, he’s grateful for the experience. And happy to do what he must. Ready to die, he crosses the street and enters the building.
Does he do it? Does he “consummate”? Is his “consummation” successful?
Well… he’s writing these lines right now. The rest of that night wasn’t easy. The following days weren’t easy. The following months weren’t easy. And yet here he is. And it hasn’t been easy.
Did his impressionistic experience help him make it through those days? It doesn’t seem so to me. Does it remain in his emotional memory as a transcendent moment in his life? Despite its uniqueness, I don’t feel it that way, although it certainly remains. Who knows the meaning it will acquire in the future, but for now it works as a reminder, as a prove of what experience could be if I could, or learned to, if we could, or learned to, let our demands on life go, let our worries, fears and frustrations go. And just experience.
I released all my troubles for a moment that night, convinced as I was that I would die in minutes. That’s how I went through what in my innermost thoughts I call God’s vision. For what could torment God?
This is no advocacy of irresponsibility or carelessness. This is no advocacy of giving up on dreams and plans. Life is here for us to act, to interact, to function. This is just a reflection on how situations are made worse by the way we process them.
There is no denial here of situations that make release of negativity extremely difficult or unthinkable, depression included. But I remember people such as Etty Hillesum, prisoner at Westerbork killed in Auschwitz who, in her diaries, wrote about her achievement of a state of acceptance and inner peace in the middle of horror; a state, by the way, that didn’t prevent her from empathising and trying to change things for the better; and I ask myself: “Who knows?”
Perhaps life doesn’t need the heavy wrappings we compulsively add to experiences in our insides. Perhaps most of those wrappings are dispensable. Perhaps life just needs our living it.