Sunday, 31 December 2017
It's just over twenty years to the day when a friend of mine was stabbed to death on the beach. He bled out, lying on the sand in the darkness, while we scuffled with people whom we supposed to be his attackers, or ran up and down shouting a lot and being melodramatic. We were very young.
It might be thought that this event would go some way to explaining why I have spent so many New Year's Eves either in lockup, throwing up in pub toilets, or throwing bottles or chairs at strangers. But it doesn't. The fact is, I didn't know him all that well. Although I didn't acknowledge it at the time, the fact is that I was in a gang of sorts, and his was just another face amongst many. There was an inner circle, of which he was a part, but I wasn't in it. And I can't for the life of me separate my memories of that night from the superimposed memories of others, or those of other bad nights I've lived through since. And of those of the core group I did know, they all, it seems to me, used their experience of that night to correct themselves, and to find a functional place for themselves within the community. It was only peons like me who desecrated his memory by using it as justification for acting out even more.
This speaks to a broader problem in the life that I've led - that of memories. To what extent are we made of our memories? And if we are, what does it mean if the majority of those memories is putrid - a series of cankers rotting away in the deepest parts of our brains? It's been a while since I decided to turn the page on the life of viciousness and futility I'd led as a youth, but there are hooks in it that tug me back to those days, regardless of what I do. Which is another lie. Those hooks are there because I won't let go. It feels like a betrayal, not only of the people who exist in that long past hinterland, but also of the self that I left behind. It doesn't help that people I talk to speak smugly of 'closure' and 'moving on', as if they have the slightest clue as to what either of those things really mean in my context. And the feeling one gets hearing those hackneyed phrases is one of deep offence. Your interlocutor assumes the universal expression of puffy self-righteousness and says, "You're not that person any more. It's time to move on." And what you hear is, "The self of your past - the one that makes up part of the you I see today - is beneath contempt."
In recent years, I've taken to staying indoors on New Year's Eve. This is partly age - a loss of faith in the perfect moments of joy we so assiduously seek out with the credulity of youth. But it's also partly a penance. All the mayhem and hurt I've caused over the years will not - cannot - be repeated if I just don't go outside. And perhaps, finally, I can absorb properly the lesson that I should have learned from that pointless, tragic death all those years ago.
In the course of my Mystic Meg style peregrinations through life, one of the things I was most often called upon to do was to contemplate upon the sword. This was basically one of those Zen-type exercises designed to purge and still the mind. In order to fulfil the same purpose, the sword could just as easily have been replaced with a candle, a slinky, or a sex toy.
But one of the things I never really thought much about, until recently, was what lessons might be learnt from such contemplation. What gain or advantage might be accrued from paying close attention to the process as well as to the goal.
What would tend to happen would be a mental dissection. The various components of the sword would be weighed and examined, and then the whole would be put back together, and what the contemplation mostly consisted of was purpose. What is a sword actually for? By which is meant, what is it made and designed to do? This is deceptively simple. A sword is made for cutting. It is first and foremost a cutting edge, shaped for leverage, and modified for defensive as well as offensive capability. But first and foremost, it is for cutting. And because it is a weapon, it is made for cutting people. So, in its simplest and most essential form, a sword is a hateful thing.
And what if we apply the same principle to the contemplation of a person? A person is admittedly a much more complex object than a sword, but it should still be possible to determine what a person was made and designed to do. Essentially, a person is designed to create other people, to keep itself alive, and to fulfil its needs and desires. In order to do this, it needs other people, so, just as a sword is weighted and guarded to serve for defence as well as offence, a person is equipped with various delusions and chemical reactions designed to help it bond with other people. So, in its simplest and most essential form, a person is a purposeless and contemptible thing.
But neither swords nor people are limited to their simplest or most essential functions. In both cases, careful and intelligent usage, application, and refinement, can help both swords and people to transcend their base purposes. A sword can become a means for the attainment of high and complex physical and spiritual goals. And so too, a person can become an agent for real and positive internal and external transformation. And it is this transcendence, above all, which can be taken as the highest, most worthy work of being or using either.
Which I think is worth thinking about, especially on the one night of the year when, to all intents and purposes, reduction to base function - eat, drink, fuck, fight - is considered not only permissible, but desirable.