Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Man Thinketh

I couldn't sleep. It was late at night, my mind was overflowing with restless thoughts about me: about the quality of the past, the disappointment of the present, the slim hope for a different future. No matter how I tried to alter the outcome of my thinking, the existential questions returned: Had decisions of mine, even those deep from the past, been calamitous to my pursuit of happiness? What could I have done differently? What could I do to map out a better world--one that meant more than the doleful moment of now?

Finally, I left a sleepless bed and wrapped myself in a woolen overcoat. I topped my head with a tweed cap, tucked a warm scarf into my coat, and put my hands into leather gloves. I went out into the early winter air and walked and walked until my steady legs took me to a children's playground.

A dome shaped Jungle Gym was constructed in the centre of the park. I climbed the structure's criss-crossed aluminum pipes and sat atop it, as if I were king of this small world. I would sit, I said to myself, until in this winter air a life affirming clarity came to me.

I began to untie knotted memories with the hope of releasing myself from what was, when a gentle snow began to fall. Large flakes melted into small drops of moisture on my woolen clothes. Soon the playground was covered in a white sheet. A slight breeze had begun to blow, a creaking sound arising behind me.

I turned my head to see a swing swaying, and for a second I thought I saw a man sitting in the swing. But it was an illusion, a night shadow shaped by the light of a tall lamp post that half illuminated the playground.

A minute or two later I heard a second time that creaking sound, but this time it seemed to be accompanied by a the music of an Asian flute. I turned once more to see the apparition of the man. But it was my eyes playing a trick on me, for under the tungsten light he was once more that night shadow. And the strange Asian music I heard had come from a window where I saw someone flip over an old vinyl album.

But was there more to what I saw and heard? Was this my Ikiru moment?

Ikiru, the great Japanese character in that memorable existential movie of the same name directed by Kurosawa. The story of an old civil servant who is waiting to retire is told he has incurable cancer. We see that his life has been wasted, so he concludes. In his own mind he didn't create a personal narrative that mattered to himself and others, and most of us know he is right, because we see ourselves in him.

But this is a movie of redemption. So in his final days he fights bureaucracy to have a children's playground built. And in one of those memorable movie endings he dies contented, swaying slightly back and forth as he sits on a swing. A beautiful Tokyo snow is falling as we hear his singing of a Japanese song, non-melodious but passionate. We hear his singing until he falls into his final sleep.

Was this my Ikiru moment, in this children's playground, the snow falling, my life in existential crisis? It is my Ikiru moment, but only if I make it as such. That was the life clarity I sought.

I descended the Jungle Gym and began to shuffle my feet along the playground earth, moving snow, trying to uncover anything dangerous that could hurt children.

My bed awaited me. I went home and slept wondrously, my mind contented for the first time in days. Meaning isn't what you discover or what's handed to you, it's what you make.

I have many years left in me. The Ikiru moment should be a long one, indeed.

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