Because at first it was hard for simple reasons, and now it is hard for reasons that don’t make sense. A man I heard speak once said, “Is this all there is?” And I talked to a friend of mine sometime in January and said, “I have that same question that the man had,” and my friend said, “I’m pretty sure this is it, yes.” And I wept on the bench in the sun and drank coffee and smoked cigarettes and squinted and rubbed my face and dried my red eyes in front of the pane glass and straightened my tie and went back to work. Because this is what there is, and it is hard for reasons that don’t make sense.
I have spent most of my life looking for God or meaning or some combination of the two, and I have spent most of my life claiming to have an answer that’s better than nothing. I have read books that have helped and books that have not, and I’ve climbed mountains and flown on airplanes and ridden on buses and looked at the stars and done more than my fair share of mind-altering substances looking for a way out of answering the question about what there is or is not, and what that means about responsibility and purpose and duty and how we conduct ourselves in the world. I have learned that this is very little I know with absolute certainty, and I have learned that I am a very poor judge of what even constitutes certainty in the first place.
I read a book once that flattered my ego when it said, “Most people do not have philosophical problems.” It flattered my ego because I am awash in them most days, and it flattered my ego because, according to my self-serving interpretation, it set me apart from the crowd. That I then took it upon myself to prove the point through years of alcohol abuse was, I suppose, a bit unfair to the people who love and care about me, but I submit that there was other shit going on there that I let get the best of me for a long, long time. You don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t know how to stop drinking alcohol. I still really don’t, except that you really do do it a day at a time.
I went to India once, and as I was standing out front at JFK smoking my last cigarette before I got on the flight there, I said to this guy who was also smoking, “I’m going to India and I don’t have a plan.” I was slightly drunk at the time, because I am almost always slightly-to-very drunk in my stories about my 20’s, and he said, “How long is your flight?” I said, “I dunno. 20 hours?” And he said something pretty great that’s always stuck with me for reasons I don’t understand, he said, “That’s enough time to come up with a plan!” and he went inside.
A year ago tomorrow I went back to detox for the sixth time with no plan. I had nowhere left to live and I was down to my last $2,000 after liquidating my 401k and being fired from a bagel shop and a bar. In detox I met a guy named Matt, who was a drunk like me, and who’d spent the past two years in and out of detoxes and rehabs, and we played whist while we got over withdrawals with librium and hospital food. We went to the same rehab in Petersham, Massachusetts after detox, and at one point while we were there I said to Matt, “I’ve been coming to these things for a year. If I keep doing this, I’m going to kill myself.” We were on our way to lunch. Matt is a Harvard guy and a friendly enough fellow, and he just smiled and said to me, a bit too cheerfully, “You haven’t killed yourself yet!” and went to get his food.
I’ve only attached significance to this in retrospect; at the time, it meant almost nothing. What it is now, though, is an organizing principle and a prayer. It is an affirmation and a call to action. It is my Molly Bloom moment — my “yes I said yes I will Yes.”
You haven’t killed yourself yet!
No, I have not.