Friday, August 09, 2013

The cuckoo's nest

The other day I found myself on a bus sitting next to a guy whispering "coo coo" into a used macdonald's bag. No, he wasn't crazy. He happens to be one of my closest friends. Actually he had just rescued a baby bird which had fallen from its nest, and was attempting to calm it down. But as I sat there it occurred to me that other passengers might think we were both a bit cuckoo ourselves. I grinned at the thought.

I recently read "Veronica decides to die" - a book about life, death and what it means to be "mad". Veronica is a young woman who doesn't have anything particular going wrong in her life, but decides it would be best to die while she is young and healthy, as getting older she anticipates life only getting worse. She is plagued by the boredom of her uninspiring job and dreary day to day life. This is coupled with the belief that she was on a miserable trajectory where she would eventually marry, have a few children, become lonely, her husband would cheat on her, she would become fat and depressed, would consider suicide but wouldn't have the guts to go through with it, and in any case would have the children to think about. She reasons that it makes more sense to die now, before all that unhappiness unfolds.

In an interesting turn of events, after taking enough sleeping tablets to kill herself, she wakes up in a psychiatric hospital and is delivered the news that her heart is now so frail that she only has about a week to live. She begins to interact with the other patients. Some of them ignore her, some are confronted that somebody so young is waiting to die, and others become a comfort to her with advice about how to spend her remaining days, based on their own low points, regrets and experiences of finally "breaking free" of convention. With encouragement from her new friends, who view "madness" as just a more extreme case of being yourself and living life honestly, Veronica reasons that, since she's going to die anyway, she may as well do some of those things she wouldn't normally do. She slaps a man in the face when she disagrees with him, she gets naked, starts up a friendship with a young man who never communicates with anyone, and takes pleasure in the simple things - playing piano, a beautiful sunrise and seeing the city at night. She begins to see that life is full of choices. She doesn't have to live a dull, normal life. She can be as "mad" as she likes, she can inspire others, and experience the world around her with wonder...regardless of how many days she has still to live.

And so I think of my friend on the bus, and wonder how many of us are too frightened of what others will think to do what comes naturally - caring for other creatures, making a fuss about injustice, and being willing to live our life with integrity, passion and a bit of "madness".

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