Life and Death

needle double

September 6th marks two important anniversaries in the life of someone to whom I was uniquely close, his name was Don. Don was born on September 6th, 1982, and he died on September 6th, 2011. A neat and tidy 29 years, no remainder. It also, now, marks the birth of the daughter of one of my great friends, she was born on September 6th, 2018. Mazel tov!

On September 9th of this same year, my own daughter was born. Mazel tov to me! And to her, and her mother of course. Great joy! In an email I received while still in the hospital the next day, I learned that my brother’s dog was hit by a car in the streets of Chicago, and had passed away.

So much spinning on the wheel of life! Life emerges, departs, emerges, departs. Such a funny and sad and amazing thing. My brother and I adopted our dogs on the same day, incidentally. We went to the shelter, just to look. We were both hungover, and prone to depressive states. Perhaps we thought looking at cute dogs would make us feel better, or perhaps that looking at cute dogs in cages would let us wallow deeper in our existential numbness. At any rate we left with two cute little chihuahuas. His dog may have been the daughter of my dog, they weren’t sure. I will say that I told my dog about what happened, and she has barely gotten off the couch since. Am I projecting? Quite possibly. I am just a dumb ape with barely any hair and not one redeeming adaptation besides a big stupid brain after all.

So, a lot of death and life all crammed into 4 days (it’s strange how calendar math works, 6+3=9, yet the 6th through the 9th consists of four days, not three). A lot more than just my old friend, my daughter, my friends daughter, and my brother’s dog. Hell, just in regards to people I know a friend lost a cousin to suicide in the same time span, and another old friend had a daughter as well. Imagine how much life and death there must have been in the city I live in, nevermind the whole fucking planet!

What’s the point? Well, that’s my question. I’m exalted and over the moon about my daughter, and my friend’s as well. I am saddened deeply for my brother, it is no trivial thing to lose a pet, especially after almost a decade of companionship. Is it a wash? Is there a lesson to learn? If there is, I am afraid it might really be trivial. The lesson being simply that things that are alive die, so rejoice in them before it happens! Hug your daughters! Hug your dogs! Look at the birds! Smell a goddamn rose! The mud became conscious, and now it is your turn to enjoy it, don’t fuck around!

Congratudolences to all!

Do Whatever You Want, You Have To Anyways.

The title of this piece is false advice. If you want to hurt people, don’t. If you want to hoard money for no reason while people starve to death, or work menial jobs forever to no happy end, don’t. However, if you want to move to the beach, do. If you want to open an ice cream stand, do. If you want to forget all of your debts and walk off into the woods, go for it.

Life is singular folks. Seems very unlikely that it happens again, at the very least not in the same way it is happening right now. Which means you’ve got one chance to do what you want in this world, it is this chance, it is today. Hate your job? Quit. Don’t like your neighbors? Move. Nothing gets better through inaction, no one is coming to save you. It is up to you.

I have even better news actually, it isn’t up to you. Everything you are ever going to do is set in stone. How do I know? I don’t, but I’m pretty sure. Here’s two pieces of evidence. One is just that this life doesn’t repeat itself, which means you go through it exactly once. Every time you have acted, responded, decided, it was the only time you will ever act in that particular situation. Which means questions of what you would do differently if you had the chance are irrelevant. You won’t. Furthermore, even if you did, if you were in the exact same situation again, with the exact same information, you would make the exact same choice. How do I know? Because in that situation with that information, you made that choice. Pretending you would magically make some other choice in that exact same situation is useless, as is pretending you might have been able to learn from the mistake of that choice before having made it and so chose otherwise. Spilt milk.

The other piece of evidence is just the very nature of the universe. It’s causal. X happens, causes y why every time. The pool ball analogy is a good one. If the cue ball hits the eight ball on the exact same table at the exact same speed and angle at the exact same positions, the eight ball will move the same way every time. This has been how things have happened since the beginning. Stars forming, planets, earthquakes, waves, clouds, rainbows, all just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. So it is with physical phenomena. You know what else is physical phenomena? Your thoughts, your decisions, your actions. Each is just a reaction to the laws of nature and previous events. Had toast this morning? That was determined by the big bang. Broke up with your boyfriend? Big bang did that. C’est la vie.

So, don’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to. Don’t worry about mistakes you’ve made, you had no choice. Free will is an illusion. Since free will is an illusion and mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Of course you shouldn’t worry about doing whatever you want, you’re going to, which means you don’t have to worry about any mistakes you’ve ever made, because you had no choice, and since your mistakes don’t matter, you may as well do whatever you want. Of course you are going to do whatever you want, so don’t worry about possible mistakes, they were inevitable, because free will is an illusion, and since mistakes don’t matter, go ahead and do whatever you want. Why are you so focused on potential mistakes anyway? Maybe it’ll be awesome.

The Trolley (continued)

The brakes on the train lock up, they sound like a giant dragging his fingernails across a city wide blackboard. The man sitting on the bridge leans forward, as if he is trying to get a better look. You decide you’ll save the children, one life sacrificed to save five others, that in itself is sufficient justification. You rush forward, and the man looks over at you.

“Oh, hello Sarah.” he says.

It’s your cousin, someone you haven’t seen in years, but your kin all the same. You should have recognized him, but you didn’t. You falter, tripping over your steps, but your momentum is determined. Your cousin puts up his hands, tries to swing his legs back over the bridge, but it’s too late. You connect with him, and he topples over the side. When the train comes to stop it is with your cousin’s body edging up against the first child. The children are saved, you saved them. You also murdered your cousin.

A flash of light blinds you, seems to take up the entire world, and then fades away. You are standing on top of the bridge again, your cousin sits on the edge of the bridge. The brakes have just begun to squeal.

(to be continued)

The Trolley

In your town a bridge crosses an expanse of railway tracks that lead to a terminating depot. Often people stand on the bridge, watching the trains roll into their final destination, or take off again. It is not the majestic scenery of the nearby mountains or lakes, but in the context of a city, for those appreciative of the massive capacity of humankind for producing infrastructure, it is nice to look at.

One day, early in the morning, you are walking across that bridge. It is nearly empty, a rare event, with the lone observer sitting upon the railing of the bridge, his feet dangling over the tracks. Not an entirely safe position, but the man is clearly an adult, an impressively sized adult at that. A giant almost. You edge over to the railing yourself, so as to see the tracks, and you stop. Your heart seems to skip a beat. Down there, as if in a Dudley Doright cartoon, are children tied to the train tracks. Five of them. Screaming for help.

“Holy shit!” you scream.

“I know.” says the other man.

A train is approaching, it’s horn blaring. At this stage it does not move quickly, but neither can it apply the brakes quickly enough to stop before hitting the children, and regardless of its speed the impact is going to end the lives of each child. In a blur of thoughts one seems to ring out a little more clearly. The man is sitting directly above the track, and the combination of the frantically screeching brakes of the train and the weight of the man might be sufficient to save them. Why is he sitting there anyway? Why didn’t he call for help right away? Did he tie them to the tracks? There isn’t time to ask, you either push the man, surely killing him but saving the lives of the children, or you don’t, and the children will die.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

 

(to be continued)