There are some pieces of news that rock you to your very core and undermine your sometimes tenuous grip upon your internal mental composure. I had such a piece of news yesterday about someone I know. This is someone young who has been dealt the worst blow fate can bestow. I prefer not to elaborate, except to say life is even more unfair than I had ever imagined it could be, indifferent yet cruel. I cannot put myself in the shoes of either him or his poor parents; my empathy is defeated, turned aside by cowardice, fear and self-preservation and compassion is all I can allow.
Putting aside my anger at God for not existing, an inaction that I have never forgiven him for, I just shake my head at the tragedy of it all.
So, I shoehorn my wretched powerlessness into a container in my head, squeezing the lid down to contain it as best I can, I shove it out of the way on a shelf in my mind, where I know that at some point in the indistinct future, it will again burst free to torture me. In the dark of some night, the arbitrary nature of the Universe and its events will hang oppressively over me and I will toss and turn, thanking whatever providence, guiltily, that the lightning bolt flew past me and mine, and struck someone else.
But I know I will remain fearful in the knowledge that nobody is really safe and pain may be mine if probability decrees.
But fear and bitterness are not helpful and I try to find some means by which there may any shred of good to come from such an awful situation.
Yesterday, I was reminded by an email to complete my holiday calendar for this year. In 2010, it seems, I did not take all my allotted vacation days, leaving me with two weeks unused. Of these, I can retain a week for use next year, but five days must be taken if they are not to be lost.
I resolve to distribute these over the next couple of weeks.
But what kind of indictment on a life is this? How shameful that a man in his prime (well, ish) should finish a year having been too busy, distracted or indecisive to fully utilise all the free time that is his due. What the hell was I thinking?
So, given that life is finite and destiny can render it potentially significantly shorter than we anticipated, it is a crime that we do not make more of it. Well, I say "we" but obviously here I mean "I". What was so important in those warmer days throughout the year that I could not look out of the window and say "Tomorrow, I am going to the sea in my van!" or "Next week, we should go away somewhere nice for a couple of days." ?
Thinking back, actually: Nothing.
Now here we are in the frigid winter where days are short and everything is frozen solid for days at a time. And I have to find some way to reasonably use up five days, other than Christmas shopping, buying pointless things for people that they never expressed a desire to own. What a waste!
If anything is to be salvaged from the message of tragedy it is the hackneyed stolen phrase "Carpe Diem". A wearisome, overused cliché but nonetheless relevent.
But how do we sieze the day? Well, first of all, perhaps timely reminders not to be so bogged down and defeated by the minor trials and obstacles that make up everyday life: The everyday life that we are suddenly confronted with losing sometimes and hence then treasure.
Somehow, though, small obstacles and inertia become a barrier to worthy use of free time. I can't find the headphones for my mp3 player so I don't go to the gym. I am afraid my friends will be busy so I don't call them to see if they want to go out to see a band. I am listening to a podcast of "In Our Time" so, I can't pick up the phone to see if my mother is in for me to visit. Its all just a bit troublesome to do.
Finding the energy to power the momentum, to build it to escape-velocity for whatever rut or armchair we find ourselves languishing in, can feel insurmountable.
So, when the sun shines, or even when it rains, and opportunity beckons, I shall think of my friend and of all the other misfortunes that can randomly smite us, and I shall use his adversity and my respect for him to lever me from my lassitude and into action.
So, this morning, mindful of this, I aquiesced to an introductory diving course.