The Things That Matter

Street at NightLast night, somewhere around 1 am, I lay down in the middle of an empty street and listened to the silence of the pavement. The sky was blank. It wasn’t clear enough to see the stars, and light pollution had turned the black into grey. My hair was pressed against the gravel, but I didn’t think about what had been there before me and what would come after me. I gambled my life. The first time a car passed, I stared at my illuminated feet and waited for the light to pass. The second time a car passed, I sat up and looked into the headlights, wondering if perhaps I should be afraid.

I was not afraid.

There are so many things that can go wrong. You can avoid cigarettes, except that one puff when peer pressure overcame your sense of self-preservation, and die in your 30s of lung cancer. You can strip and go skinny-dipping in a pool of water so clear you can count the guppies at the bottom and contract an amoeba that snacks on your brain. You can follow your friend down a snowbank, steeper than you would like, and tumble as your skis snap and mark a trail of death behind you. What is the difference between me and a skydiver or a Nascar driver or a free solo climber? The fact that their pursuit requires a degree of skill, and therefore nobility? I don’t think we’re all that different. In the end, we’re all looking for momentary solace in a world that strips humans of the very thing that defines us.

The heartbeat. The pulse. The multiplication and division of cells. We’re the only species in this world that has long forgotten what it feels like to fear for our lives a dozen times between breakfast and dinner. We’ve forgotten what it means to be alive, because we’ve forgotten what it is to face death. The domestication of humans goes far beyond that of cats and dogs. Did you know that, upon successful intercourse, a female cat writhes and thrashes like an eel out of water? It’s instinctual. Somehow, it helps the sperm meet the egg. Can you imagine what would happen if a woman did that every time post coitus? It would be weird, terrifying even. But they’re not the weird ones; we are. We, who’ve lost the instinct to be human, except perhaps for the Duggars.

These are the things that matter.

No, I don’t mean birthing 19 children, either out of desire to please your lord or manipulate natural selection. I mean maintaining some sort of connection with the most basic human urges, emotions, sensations. We’re not designed for today’s society, one that defines us by our LSAT score, GPA, and salary. In the context of life and death, who the hell cares about what you do for a living? Who cares if you’re Ivy League-smart or Victoria’s Secret-beautiful? Who cares about your idealistic and ultimately selfish passion to change the world? Who, besides your mother, cares that you have three novels in the drawer and you’re the next Virginia Woolf? I know that, if I saw the dark at the end of the tunnel, I would care about what I’d done. I would care if I had felt everything the human experience has to offer. The light and the heavy. The pure and the despicable. The ice and the fire. I would want to have suffered great lost. I would want to have lost great love. I would want to have hated, as evidence that I had loved. I would want to have cried, as evidence that I once laughed.

These are the things that matter.

Last night, as I looked that oncoming mass of metal in the eye, and saw the light that could take me to dark, I knew that I hadn’t lived enough. I wasn’t ready to die. I hadn’t done enough, felt enough, loved enough. I would have been sad to be taken. But you know what? Almost. I’ve almost had enough, if enough even exists. I could have left yesterday without what-ifs and do-overs.

These are the things that matter.

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5 thoughts on “The Things That Matter

  1. Rebeccca,

    Please, please do not lie in the street. I’m sure I don’t have to explain what danger you were in and what possible things could have happened to you besides death — like being a quadriplegic or brain damaged. Now, as a driver I would have had a HEART ATTACK if there was a body in the street or if I thought I hit someone. Also, I may have panicked and struck you if I was driving down that road. I’ve had PLENTY of adrenaline rushes in my 45 years — hitting your body in the road would not be the one I’d like to have.

    Please give this up. Find something that is safe (or safer) that can provide you any adrenaline rush you may be looking for. Thrills are overrated.

    Please take care of yourself. I’m sure your mom would not like you doing this! Sorry to be a nag but really, c’mon Rebecca!

    Sincerely,
    Elizabetcetera

    • Elizabetcetera,

      Sorry to give you a (mini) heart attack! The description there was exaggerated for the purposes of the essay. I wasn’t in the street where people were driving — we were in the center lane and the area was deserted. But yeah, I appreciate your concern and I won’t be doing it again, Mom. 😉

  2. Pingback: CW: Extroversion, BPD, and My Therapist | Rebecca Cao

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