When, in the course of a regular man’s regular life, he peaks his head above water long enough to notice that he is, for the most part, in what is likely the middle of his life, he may begin to despair for more reasons than one. He is, as we’ve already said, a regular man; ergo, he likely didn’t amount to much. That’s more a statement of demographics than anything pertaining to his actual value. He may be an exceptional regular man (in his own way), but unless he’s occupying one end of the spectrum (horrifically, criminally bad on the left; angelically, altruistically good on the right), he’s probably like most of us: he has occasional bouts of both good and bad behavior, is capable of selfishness and generosity, and likely resides somewhere outside the realms of success and celebrity. It boils down, I suppose, to this truth: pull fifty people out of any crowd and most of them will be of the mediocre variety, neither amazing nor appalling, neither stupid nor genius. Most of us are just here and that’s all. We’re told we’re all special, but really only a handful of us ever do anything remarkable or extraordinary.
And so when this regular man, who likely didn’t amount to much, who may have had dreams of glory that never panned out, who may have been told when he was young that he was destined for great things, stands at the fulcrum of his life, with youth diminishing to his left and old age looming to his right, he may hang his head and think that being here wasn’t really worth it. It’s taken him half his life to figure things out (even though he hasn’t really done that; most of us never do), and the first half gave him a pretty good idea of what to expect from the second half. He wants to believe that the second half will be better, but the monotonous drudgery of life, with its many trials and few victories, eats away at this feeble optimism, for he’s lived long enough to know that existence is, for the most part, consistent. Which is to say that the basic equation of [being alive] = [shit happens] isn’t likely to undergo any serious alterations during his last remaining four or five decades.
So he stands here at the midway point, knowing now how time flies faster each year, knowing now that all the hopefulness of youth, misled though it was, has bled from him, knowing now that most of what he does, no matter how hard he tries to believe otherwise, doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme… and as he looks to his right, toward the looming grave, which may still be far off but is nevertheless beginning to slowly make itself known, he begins to wonder whether he wants the bother of it all. Perhaps he has contemplated suicide. Maybe “going out on his own terms” begins to sound less and less irrational. He knows of the somewhat admirable (though severely misguided) actions of figures such as George Sanders and Ernest Hemingway—people who opted out of life’s inevitable decline by taking matters into their own hands. And there are some appealing overtures in these thoughts which attract our regular man, for he is nothing if not a romantic. But beneath these temptations are the embers of his passion for life, embers which burned strong and bright at one time and which, despite having waned nearly to the point of winking out entirely, still smolder weakly, perhaps waiting for the right igniting agent by which to fan back into glorious, raging flames…
This igniting agent, whatever it might be, for which part of him longs, likely exists only in theory, in his imagination. Cerebrally, he suspects that no such igniting agent actually exists.
After all, he’s basically tried everything the world has to offer. He has traveled far and seen the beauty of the Earth. He has made love to beautiful women wherever he’s gone. He’s tasted the ripest fruit, supped on the fattest calves, and experienced all of the thrills one can hope for in this life. And here, at the fulcrum, he’s just so fucking bored with it all. There’s nothing new under the sun, no untapped, uncharted area left to explore. What then could possibly reignite those ever-weakening embers and bring his passion for life back into full force?
The truth, he believes, is that nothing can.
And so, he looks at the second half of his life, knowing that just beyond it is the finality of death, and suspects that these remaining decades are going to be characterized by the worst of all things: protracted tedium. The recipe for his future, therefore, is a long bout of boredom followed by black nonexistence. Why exactly should this man get up in the morning? Why should he smile?
Life, he has been repeatedly told, is precious and beautiful, a wonderful gift one should treasure with all gratitude and humility. To think otherwise is, apparently, to give “the middle finger” to God or fate or whatever. “Look for the silver lining,” our regular man is told. “Look on the bright side. Stay positive. Be glad. Be thankful.”
For what, exactly, should he be thankful? If to exist in human form is to know that all you are will ultimately be lost, wouldn’t it have been better to have never existed in the first place? If to be alive is to not only die (which is horrible enough on its own) but to also know you’re going to die and to get closer and closer to the end with each passing day, what could this be called if not the ultimate form of slow torture? How is life precious to the moth that is eaten by the bird? How is life precious to the snail that got run over by a car? How is life precious when it can be so arbitrarily lost so quickly? Perhaps by “precious” these optimistic people really mean “delicate,” which I get. But if by “precious” they mean “treasure,” well… there’s nothing all that treasurable about the oppressive weight of existence.
No, if to exist is to face entropy, then clearly it is better to have never existed. That’s not pessimistic thinking, that’s just Occam’s razor being employed correctly. The simpler option is always the correct one. And it is clearly simpler to have never existed than to exist and face all the woeful throes of depression that come with marching closer and closer to death each day. It is clearly simpler to have nothing than to have something and then lose it.
So our regular man, standing at this midway point of life, weighs all of this information and, despite knowing how utterly foolish it is, he does try to find the silver lining. But this misguided endeavor lasts only a few moments before he remembers that “optimism” is just a synonym for “stupidity” and “willful blindness.”
“There is no silver lining,” he cries out in despair. “There is only the protracted tedium and the looming death beyond.”
What appalls him the most is that he’s not even trekking through the protracted tedium; no, he’s floating. When you trek, when you walk, you have a say in where your feet take you. But when you’re floating, you’re at the mercy of the wind, the mercy of chance, and you have no control over where you’re going. To float is the worst sentence that can be bestowed upon you. Better to get nailed to cross and know your place than to float endlessly through the tedious void. Our man is floating, and he knows it. He is listless. Two shades south of stagnant water. Adrift in the wasteland of boredom and nothingness.
Where is his port? Where can he land? Where can he find a good path that promises adventure and meaning rather than the tiresome, maddening daily hum of “the same old fucking thing day after day… after day… after…”
Some voice, way down inside, whispers to him. It’s more of that optimistic bullshit, but our man is tempted to listen. The message sounds so good, after all. The voice says, “Maybe tomorrow something will happen to change the equation. Maybe tomorrow the dam will burst and something new will come pouring out of the ruins.”
And so, even though he knows he’s utterly stupid for doing so, even though he knows that he will hate himself tomorrow for having dared to hope tonight, he gets into bed a bored man lost in the protracted tedium of midlife… and thinks to himself as his head hits the pillow that maybe… just maybe… tomorrow will be better.
(And he falls asleep believing the lie.)