I remember once when I was in France, and trying to impress this beautiful French woman with an extraordinarily dumb act of bravado. I used to smoke a lot of cannabis when I was in my early twenties, culminating in a sort of two-year haze of wasted effort and time. I found that grass sometimes lifted me, but more often than not it just left me wanting to be alone. I’d visit my pot-smoking pals in Dumfries town and feel a sense of steady deflation as they skinned-up and switched on TV… conversation would cease, replaced by stoned harking at the crap on the box. I’d sit there just wanting to escape, but enduring the ritual.
Being young and very unsure of myself (something heightened by the smoke) those hours would inevitably drag. Where was the conversation, the passion and the fire of our youth? I was watching my friends turn into old men… they were barely 21! But once I was on my motorbike I was overcome with a great sense of freedom, I’d race out, taking the winding country roads back home. And then I quit smoking that shit altogether when I was twenty-five and moved to Ireland. Partaking occasionally but never missing it, and much preferring coherence of mind.
So it had been a number of years since I’d smoked anything (and I’d stopped smoking tobacco the previous year), so when my beautiful French girlfriend hesitantly offered me the pipe I filled the stone artefact generously, delighting in the look in the beautiful French lady’s eyes - a look that said “WOW!”. Fast-forward fifteen minutes and I’m making excuses, hiding in her kitchen while she relaxed to music. The grass was strong, granted, and my tolerance was gone. I was totally ripped!
Gripped by a storm of rising thoughts; a wall of negative thought threatened to topple me. I’m actually going insane, I thought. What the fuck am I doing here? In France? Way, way from anywhere familiar to me… Love, I thought… what is love?
To combat the rising swell of these thoughts I turned to pen and paper, grasping at a lone spark in the crescendo of imagery - I wrestled it to the table and bound it to the page.
It turns out, sixteen years after the fact, that piece of writing is relevant here. The thread was this: If there is nothing after death, I mean absolutely zero and consciousness, yours or mine, is terminated, then our lives could be envisioned as a terrible sentence, indeed consciousness could be seen the same way - because we are conscious of our end. And if we don’t believe in an afterlife, or take comfort from such, if death is the end… well, under the influence of that grass the thought pinnacled, reared, like a blood-red wave and I took a stab at the fucker with my Biro.
You see it fell upon me like I was caught in a gravity-well, plunging toward an immense planet: the intrinsic value of life. The precious nature of every single life. That what is extinguished will never come again, or have a second chance. Immediately I scrawled a half-crazed accusation, that “surely atheist parents are guilty of murder with every life they bring into the world!” Think about it… if you are aware there is nothing… and that everyone has to surmount that final hurdle, in whatever way they greet death… well… it seemed to me a criminal act. “You did not ask for this life.” I wrote, stoned out of my tree and therefore every word, the implications of every word like deadweights on the tapestry of fate.
Simple, logical. And then I was caught up in that notion of a life, its intrinsic worth, what that means: a human lifetime, the experience, the lows, highs, joys and pains, the love, the lies, hate and happiness - beyond measure, beyond gold (unless you’re the CEO of Ford during their Pinto analysis in the 70’s where a security measure costing $1-$5/unit was measured against the commercial value of a human life: a human life was judged by the company to be worth in the region of $200,000. Overall too much of a loss and it’s estimated that about 500 people burned to death in Pinto accidents as a result... so do the math). I was flooded by the revelation, I felt it; a great sense of sadness and horror… the twin towers had recently fallen and military intervention in Iraq was on the cards. I was overcome by the horror that someone could wipe another life out, without a thought or a care (military or terrorist… or anyone). Without measuring a life’s worth in a human sense.
But then we’re good at that. We’ve a whole history of practice. We abstract the deed, conceptualise and distance ourselves. We watch death by TV; a charnel house of burning corpses and severed limbs, even our escapist fantasies have become scenes from torture chambers. This morbid fascination, and yet we are the first to rise in moral condemnation when it suits us, or when we are prodded into action with the media yard stick.
Sixteen years change a person. A lot has happened to the world, and to me. Yet still this sense remains. I partake in the world, I even enjoy The Walking Dead and Game Of Thrones, I think much of the violence portrayed is unnecessary, but I can distinguish entertainment from the real (not saying it doesn't impact on our culture). I understand my shadow side more, the brute inside us all. Yet still this sense of the worth of life remains so strong. I wonder if I hadn’t tried to impress that beautiful French girl would I feel the same way?
And so it begins. A quest. A thirst of sorts. I hope you'll partake.