Hello Despair, my old friend.
I’d never thought it would end up like this, but our relationship has grown remarkably over 2016. I am convinced that you now deserve a place among my inner circle of friends.
I wonder how it all happened. Like most people, I never liked you. I didn’t even choose you. But it doesn’t matter. I must’ve grown to accept the fact that you have always been there for me.
We’ve had our fun times. Together we mocked the joke of Pokemon Go, but our tastes soon evolved into darker things: Zika, Brexit, the Turkish coup, ISIS, Aleppo, refugees, climate change and Donald Trump. But it all seemed so far away. We’d analyse them from armchairs in ivory towers.
I remember that that night in my final semester of school when I stood alone in a lab. Fiddling with the array of microbial biosensors, clothes soaked in sweat and industrial wastewater all over my hands, I decided the “system” wasn’t worth my while.
I remember the books you introduced me to, which like a pair of X-ray goggles helped me see through the layers of pretence and hypocrisy borne by 99% of the human race. Pitiful creatures, I’d think to myself. We’d toast to the futility of existence, and the twin illusions of meaning and choice.
I remember the times my faith wavered: God often felt far away, but you never left my side. Besides, what was it in humanity that could possibly warrant the necessity of salvation?
All is vanity. Silly. Pointless. Meaningless.
How generous of you, even, to suggest the easy way out – disappear, let it burn, run away. That would’ve ended my suffering once and for all.
But one day, dear Despair, it dawned upon me that you weren’t perfect. That behind that wall of rationality, you bleed, just like the pitiful humans. Humans despise you for the darkness you carry, but fail to see you for who you really are. They could use X-ray goggles too.
So, regarding our relationship, I have to now choose between three options.
I could choose to reject you, Despair. I was once a happy hedonist, like most around me. But filling one’s life with busyness and pleasure does not change our course. The march of eternity is no respecter of dreams, achievement, struggle or legacy.
Eventually we must confront the questions of our existence, lest our joys themselves become arbitrary. I’m not prepared to spend another day in the augmented reality of Pokemon Go.
I could choose an exclusive relationship with you. You brought me to the doorstep of nihilism, but there was no place to rest my head.
You asked me to crucify the emotions, writing them off as nothing more than chemical reactions brought about by spontaneous mutation and natural selection. Naturally, we got to talking about morality.
At the end of the day, I saw that a mind that presented such arguments effectively argued against its own rationality.
Or I may choose to hope. And this is my choice.
Not simply a call to black-and-white thinking, it is, rather, a call to Hope. Not the kind that sheds the X-ray goggles, but one that chooses to wonder nonetheless.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is,” goes a quote popularly misattributed to Einstein.
The first miracle, Despair, is that despite our long friendship, I am alive – that my heart beats, and blood flows through my veins.
I choose to acknowledge my place in the cosmos as a speck of dust – insignificant and imprisoned in Plato’s cave amidst shadows, tainted mirrors and the absurd. Yet, I embrace my freedom as a rational, feeling creature.
I choose to possess in my hands the power to heal this timeless world ravaged by our transient existence, to feed the hungry and pick up the crippled man. To feed just one. To embrace beauty, wonder and the most irrational artistic impulse.
I choose to believe that our unfulfilled desires point to something (or Someone) indescribably and overwhelmingly magnificent, intimate and beautiful, to be revealed in the fullness of time, on the last day before the rest of eternity begins.
That one day in retrospect, we’ll see our little time here – 2016, 2017, whenever – is the single most precious thing we have.
And that is the choice I have made.
But dear Despair, this is not the end of our friendship. I didn’t realise you and Hope are two sides of the same coin. You smother out the little lights, but Hope points me to the greatest Light of all.
The days aren’t getting easier, and I’m sure I’ll see more of both of you in 2017. With you guys, life is beauty, pain is perspective, and every moment is grace.