In the first semester of LK English, we read four or five short stories, to be precise, stories of initiation. “I Want to Know Why” by Sherwood Anderson has left a not-so-easily fading impression on me, even though I have yet to figure out why.
But what strikes me most is the piece “Live Life Deeply” by Jessamyn West. The protagonist, a 14-year-old Ellie Courtney, writes an impression for her class called Live Life Deeply. She writes…
Life may be compared to a glorious sea and human beings to bathers. Some wade in ankle deep, some to their waists, and some all over. Let us not hesitate in the shallows of life, wet only to the ankles, but plunge bravely in. Let us live life deeply. Out where the breakers crash –
… then her father stopped reading, and we’ll never know what Ellie wanted to say, but it’s a powerful imagery, isn’t it? In German there’s the expression “ins kalte Wasser springen”, which means that you jump in figuratively head-first without spending too much time preparing yourself for it.
I’m an escapist. I once called myself “a shallow, self-centered, egoistic, cold-hearted bitch.” While I find the words a bit harsh, maybe they are true. I wrote:
“[…] I can read and analyze and obsess about all the treacheries in the world. Poverty. Inequality. Financial crisis. The gap between the poor and the rich. Dictatorship. The homeless. Orphans. Or worse, children with parents who abuse them. Sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse. Abduction, murder. […] I can’t bring myself to care about them all. It would break me. I have enough problems to deal with in my own little world – yes, petty and small problems compared to starving children. But I have to deal with them. […] I could at least educate myself on such matters. And I do, about certain topics. But too many of them and all I can feel is distress, depression and desperation. I feel so bad about myself being such a spoiled child who has a roof over her head, three meals a day, and a chance at education. BUT I DON’T WANT TO FEEL BAD ABOUT THAT!! I can’t live my whole life in guilt. Guilt over having what others don’t have. I will never achieve happiness in my life, and that will make me a cranky grandma who kicks dogs and has a mean face and doesn’t do anything for the world. […] So I chose ignorance. I chose denial. I chose the easy way out. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself, but this way I can get at least several days of peace until the next time I realize what a heartless person I am being.
Later, I tell myself. When I have carved out a place for myself in the society, and once I earn my own living and can spare some money and/or time, I will look further into this. Or I will use my skills as a lawyer and defend the helpless. It sounds so honorable right now, but who knows what I will say in five, ten, fifteen years… […]”
(Maybe I should have written “but who knows what I will say in one year”.)
Now I bring the present and the past together. The present post about Jessamyn West and her story about ocean and bathers, and my past post about my misery about ignoring the bad things happening in the world, for shutting the whole life out.
Because is that not what I am doing? I put my hands over my ears and shut my eyes, I pretend that nothing is happening. I stubbornly choose to see only what is in front of my eyes. I cut myself off from the world. It’s too easy to do, actually. Don’t watch news, don’t read newspaper. It’s so easy to fall behind everyone. If you don’t actively inform yourself about what has happened today, yesterday, 50 years ago, you won’t be able to keep up with the influx of information everyone makes use of. You can’t talk about current politics, economic situation, and whatever topic that you choose to find important. (It sounds so sophisticated, doesn’t it, when you brag about your knowledge on some new bill in the parliament, especially if your conversation partner has no idea about it?)
So here I am, sitting in the house all the time except for occasional exams (then I have to actually get up, get out, and get it done) and when my family half-forces me to taking a walk with them.
I don’t go out. I chalk it up to my shyness about new people and faces, but the truth is, I just don’t want to face my life. I pass one day after another in the exact same style (i.e. get up, eat, do nothing, sleep – on repeat) and it feels like the time has stopped, except the sky gets darker and brighter outside my window.
And I feel dead inside.
It’s like I’m not really awake, not really existing. I eat, but I forget the taste as soon as the food leaves my tongue. I read, but the words never enter my heart. I breathe, but I barely feel my body.
This isn’t life.
I’m not even living in the shallows of life, my feet are completely dry. Oh, what would Ellie say to this?