What is worse than the world's indifference? No, not indifference, inattention. An inability to see. We go through life thinking of the world as Ptolomaic, with ourselves at the centre, and it's only when despair strikes us and the universe remains unmoved that we realise that the world is not about us, is not, in fact, concerned with us in the least.
You step out of your apartment, the weight of bad news heavy upon you, and you are amazed to find that gravity is still the same. You stand waiting for the elevator and wonder if these corridors have always been this empty, this comfortless, or is it only the echo of your sadness that makes them feel that way. In the lift going down you are sure that people will notice that something is wrong - the defeat in your eyes will tell them, the slump of your shoulders, it must be written in every gesture you make - yet no one notices a thing. They go on talking into their cellphones or with each other, smiling, laughing, and when the ground floor comes they step out and you are left behind, abandoned, waiting paralysed for that moment when the door of the elevator will close and shut you in. Will close and hold you back. Will close and doom you.
How can they not see what you are going through? How can they not know? Has it always been this way? All these years you have spent trying to keep up appearances, trying to look good, trying not to embarass yourself, and no one has ever paid you the slightest attention? Is the very notion of being 'in public' a lie? Perhaps it is not being seen naked that we should worry about, perhaps it is not being seen at all.
You are beginning to feel affronted now. You feel a perverse urge to expose yourself, display your wounds, insist that other people acknowledge them. You are turning into an exhibitionist of pain. You who had promised yourself you would put a brave face on it, had promised yourself that you would not let it show: now you want to scream it from the rooftops. You tell yourself this is silly. You are above such cheap sentimentality. You are stronger than this. You just need to get a grip. But in your most secret heart you know. The reason you won't scream is not because you are ashamed or do not want to be pitied. You won't scream because you're afraid no one will lift a hand to help. No one will care.
It never occurs to you to question your own culpability in all this. To ask, what about me? Have I too failed to see the agony in another's eyes? The indifference of others wounds me now, but was I not, till yesterday, one of them? How many strangers have I passed by, barely sensing the cry for help that their bodies struggled to hold back? How much of the world's suffering have I overlooked?
And isn't it, perhaps, for the best? Think of all the suffering in the world. If we truly shared each other's sorrows, if we allowed the loss or hurt of any man or woman to diminish our own happiness, how could we ever hope to be happy? How could we ever cling to life? Isn't this indifference of ours merely a coping mechanism? Can we really afford not to look away?
And isn't it this, rather than the lack of acknowledgement that affronts us? Not that the strangers don't see us, but that they see us the way mirrors do, showing us not the sympathy we desire, but our own preoccupation in reverse. Not that we feel isolated, but that we have the temerity to imagine that without this isolation there would still be an 'us' to feel sorry for.
Deep in our hearts, we are all children, desperate for consolation. And we are beginning to realise that there is no one to console us.
Categories: Personal, Life