Nothing political in this diary. I'm just recanting an episode from yesterday that changed my perspective on life, and trying to collect my thoughts on it.
For whatever reason I couldn't get to sleep, and I noticed it was starting to get light out, so I thought I'd take my bike down to the dock on Lake Champlain to watch the sunrise and think about the things that are going on in my life.
After a few minutes of contemplation, I noticed another man staggering around the dock. Eventually he staggered over in my direction and started talking to me.
It was immediately apparent that this guy was extremely drunk. He started rambling about the construction they were doing to extend the dock, and why couldn't they do it in the wintertime instead of now when the weather is nice? Now I really didn't want to engage this guy, so I nodded along instead of bringing up the point that it's probably difficult to extend a dock when the lake is frozen over.
Then he started telling me about how he hadn't slept in five days because of his flashbacks. Apparently he joined the military in 1977, and was sent to Korea. Two years later he witnessed something horrible. His speech was rather slurred, so I didn't catch all the details of the story, but apparently he was put in charge of burning some field for some reason. Some locals came to the fire, presumably to warm themselves. Everybody else seemed okay with it, so he didn't intervene and tell them to get away.
Well, eventually for some reason I didn't quite catch, they threw somebody in the fire. He watched this man burn to death as the man was looking at him. Then another person was thrown into the fire. And another. A lady even threw a baby into the fire before they could get the situation under control. It deeply disturbs me to even think about such a thing happening. I can't imagine how traumatic it must have been to witness it, especially since he felt he could have prevented it. It wasn't even wartime. It was innocent people dying for no reason.
So I guess this experience messed up the rest of this guy's life. He can't hold a relationship, can't hold a job, can't sleep, and apparently just tries to drink his troubles away. He told me he tried drinking drain cleaner once. He told me he once went to a V.A. center and when they asked him how they could help him, he told them they could give him a gun to shoot himself with. He showed me where he tried to slit his wrists two weeks ago. And he told me he thought he'd come down to the dock this morning to drown himself, but that he thought it wouldn't work because his suicide attempts never do. He told me repeatedly not to think he was a psycho.
I felt very sorry for this man, but what do you say to someone like that? There's probably nothing I could possibly do that could make his situation any better, and certainly nothing I could say. He told me his name and said he was having a birthday party in August at a local bar and that I should come. I told him I would (knowing I won't—that bar is one to avoid like the plague) and he departed. I saw him go into an outhouse, at which point I promptly hopped on my bike and pedaled to a gas station where I called the police. I know meeting the police probably wouldn't make his morning any better, but what else could I do? I didn't want the man to kill himself.
So anyways, I've been thinking about what he told me, and it's put some things into perspective for me. My petty "problems", like having a job I don't like that doesn't pay me enough, renting a room the size of a closet because it's all I can afford, living in a town where there's not a whole lot to do, not having a girlfriend or a car...it's all completely fucking trivial. There are lots of people who would kill to have what I have. To have a job, to have a house, to be young and healthy, to have a family who loves me, to have an education, to live in a First World country, to not be tormented daily by traumatic experiences from my past. The minor inconveniences I've found myself frequently complaining about lately are fucking nothing. I apologize to everybody who's had to put up with my petty complaints.
But above that, it made me realize that we're all in this boat together. Even though horrible things happen in this world, even though people hate and kill each other, we're all in the same boat. We're all just riding this little speck called Earth around the void of space, trying to get as much pleasure as we can out of the limited time we have here. And what makes life worth living at all is each other. That's why it's such a tragedy to watch a life end, or to see a life ruined by trauma.
And it's precisely because the world can be such a horrible and cruel place sometimes, that we need to come together and give each other reasons to live. Luckily, as humans we have a gift that no other animal has. We have language, which allows us to share our inner thoughts, ideas, dreams, hopes and memories with each other, creating bonds between us on a level that exists in no other species. Even without language we can do so much to make each other's lives better.
I used to ask myself: "what is the meaning of life?" Well, it's us. You and me and them. It's everybody. It's humans coming together to form associations that are greater than the sum of their parts. It's persevering through the awful, depressing, horrible stuff that happens, and leaning on the others who are in this boat with us. It's doing what we can to prevent that kind of stuff from happening, and to create the joyful experiences that make our lives worth living.
I don't know if what I did yesterday morning helped that guy at all. My guess is probably not. I did the only thing I could think of doing. As he left me he said he was "sorry for fucking up my whole morning".
You didn't fuck up my morning, sir. You gave me some much-needed perspective of the bigger picture. I wish there was something more I could do to help you, to erase those memories from your head, but I can't, and I guess that's just another one of the ways this indifferent cosmos is cruel to us. Nevertheless I promise to do what I can to help make life on this planet worth living. Thank you.