At sunrise, I leave the hotel, long before the world has woken up, carrying only my red-checkered jacket and cellphone in its pocket. I weave in and out of the street corners, entering the morning with wide-yawns that pull my skin apart. Scent of ocean salt, bread baking in wood ovens, and wet pavement – last night’s rain dance. I navigate to the Brooklyn Bridge. Wind assaults my exposed skin, today is frigid, but I stuff my fingers into my jacket’s pockets and launch my body into the direction of the wind.
New York City looks magnificent from the bridge. I see the sun stretched across the ocean water and above the buildings, many and tall, brick and stone and glass. They expand around the water’s edge, spilling above the ocean surface. Cars zooming, people moving, workers repairing the bridge rails: Life all around me.
A few feet over stands a young girl against the bridge rail looking to the glistening city picture. I ask her to take my photo and she nods meekly. Scrapping tears and mascara, with eyes squinting focus and intention, she clicks the picture. She hands it back, claims her brown leather notebook back into her chest. I see a tear slide down her cheekbone. Thankyou I say. And she is gone. I look back and she is already halfway across the bridge – her hands stowed into her black-matted jacket and walking away with a story I know nothing about. Mesmerizing. On Brooklyn bridge, in the heart of New York, a young girl faces her own story of hard.
Don’t we all have our story of hard?
At the semester’s end we meet for coffee. I wrap my fingers around a vanilla latte and admit it has been hard. He asks why. Silence lingers, hangs over the wooden table, void of discomfort: It is the sort of silence used for careful thinking and gathering of words. The minute-hand on his watch clicks forward. When it ticks past six, my eyes have seared two walls into the green-papered wall, and still, I have no words.
Sometimes life is the sort of hard that is not clear nor easily defined. Getting out of bed each morning is difficult, for almost no reason at all.
Depression, if I may label that, is funny in that way. It takes a seemingly beautiful, un-flawed life, and squeezes the joy out of it. Until all that is left is the ugly. And the aching. And the wondering how you travelled 10,000 miles from the person you once were.
Psychologists argue nature vs. nurture, and I wobble between believing that a human is a product of their environment and the everyday choices made. The answer must be both. The falsehood is that humans tend to be disillusioned to the cold, hard fact that they are much less in control of their lives than they think they are.
You did not choose where you were born, who your parents were, the chromosome pattern of your DNA…You did not choose to have your mother throw you into tennis lessons at 8-years old or to meet that first friend who noticed your wrist scars or to be given that paradigm-shifting book by your high-school English teacher. All the people that have walked into your story and the books that have dropped into your lap and the opportunities that your feet have stumbled upon – it is very well, that all of these might-not-have-been. And if they had not been, you would not be the person you are today. Life is formative.
G.K. Chesterton writes: “To me it is a solid and startling fact that any man in the street is a Great Might-Not-Have-Been.”
You are product of your parents, childhood, DNA, experiences, friends, books, music ect. That is a fact that cannot be altered, and it must be acknowledged.
Yet, to me, this fact does not provide comfort. Rather it taunts: make your choices. think you are creating a life for yourself. desperately try to put the pieces together. until she is mangled in a car accident or he walks away or the doctor says cancer. find your life utterly, and completely spinning out your of your control.
In David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, (which I insist you watch) he asks:
“How [can you avoid] from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out?”
How do you live within the abominable, paralysing, insidious, framework of being entirely isolated in a world spinning out of your control?
If we can begin here, we can better understand the strange notion that we cannot understand another person’s story of hard.
Only you have your combination of mind + heart + experience + family + thoughts. There is no other person who may understand the gravity to which you feel despair or heartache or isolation. You may only draw from your own experiences, the way your story has led you to feel and know hurt: You are only allowed to understand your own universe.
This hard is yours alone.
And so, in the words of Plato: “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”
I wonder how I would feel if a stranger entered my story of hard on a bridge in the middle of the city.
Then again, we enter other people’s stories of hard every.single.day.