I am a man. I am a man with an ego, which means I am like most other men. It’s true: we don’t ask for directions, because we believe it is a sign of weakness. Besides, what does anybody else know that I can’t figure out in four hours with a ripped map and a malfunctioning GPS? Most of us we would rather keep silent than talk, stand than sit, win than lose.
But I am not crazy. Without a doubt, strange things are happening to me. I just haven’t figured out why. People who listen to self-improvement CDs, spend hours on Twitter, or belong to Crossfit will tell you ad nauseam that we are responsible for creating our own reality. They think there are billions of realities out there smacking into one another like billiard balls. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it makes us much less compassionate toward others’ suffering. Who has sympathy for someone who “asked for it”? I just wish these people had read something beyond The Alchemist. Augustine, Hume, Garrison Keillor?
So, here’s what’s happening: the universe is trying to break my spirit, and it is doing so in little ways. But, as in Chinese water torture, little ways can have an enormous impact. It reminds me of the pastor who compared his job to being pecked to death by geese (his flock?).
Perhaps some examples will help, to wit:
(1) No matter where I sit, inevitably someone with a big head will sit in front of me at the last minute and block my view, (2) I am the only guy on the airplane who has to deal with a reclined seat in front of him, (3) Gum snappers seek me out, (4) I am the only one in my apartment building who has been surrounded by “Plaster Blasters.” These are people who need to feel their walls and floor vibrate until my ceiling falls in chips onto my dining room table, (5) I sign up, pre-register, and yet they don’t have my name on the list, (6) “Somehow, Mister Brancatelli, we never received your paperwork for your check” (six weeks later), (7) The discount expired four minutes before I walked into the store, (8) I can never escape crunching, chewing, smacking, gulping, slurping, sucking, and belching noises wherever I am.
Just this past week, I got a haircut in Brazil at the same time that a woman was getting a pedicure. The woman giving the pedicure held her client’s foot on a towel on her lap and went at her toes with what looked like a rusted awl. Then, occasionally, she would bend over, take a bite out of a sandwich (they’re big in Brazil), and go back to carving up the client’s toes with abandon. I almost dry-heaved in my chair. It could have cost me an ear.
All of this is leading to something grander, of course. What it leads to is a theory that says these things, though small, add up to one big influence in my life. If my mind is preocuppied with loud sounds and blaring music (I have complained to people in as far-flung places as San Salvador and Istanbul), then what do I expect? I have created my own reality, slowly, over emotional eons. Of course I am divorced twice. I have no one to blame but myself (and mom).
If you believe that, then let me tell you that there is such a thing as objective reality. The universe does not exist because you willed it. It is not like Laurence Olivier’s comment regarding Rome when he played Caesar in the Stanley Kubrick classic, Spartacus; that it exists “as a thought in the mind of the gods.”
Further, that objective reality has conspired to destroy me or at least the ego part of me. Being a man, this is a problem. Toward what end? I do not know, but that is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. What I am sure of in the meantime is that everything happens to me. Whether it continues to happen is not my concern. I feel as if right now the only thing I can do is grin and bear it.
And maybe not even grin.