"Check my vital signs
To know I’m still alive"
- Green Day
“The people to feel saddest for are people who once knew what
profoundness was, but who lost or became numb to the sensation of wonder.”
- Douglas Coupland, in Life After God
I breathe in and consciously inhale the smell of wet earth and leaves that colours the air. Growing older is like dying a little bit every day. When I was a kid, these impressions, these scents just came to me without me consciously having to take them in and acknowledge their presence. I wonder, was it because my nose was a few inches closer to the ground? What coloured my world so easily back then I now have to compensate with concentrated awareness. One does not know how to live more until one gets older, my father always claims, but I don't know whether that is true. Perhaps we just appreciate life more because we are losing the sense of being alive. It just takes so much more effort to notice what was once a natural bond with one’s surroundings, to notice that we are still alive and part of the world around us. That effort may be mistaken as living more, but it is just more work to stimulate our senses.
I walk down the street and past bushes and hedges, and I want to brush my hand through the stubby twigs, the cool leaves, feel their silky rain-wet texture, but what took no thought as a kid now leaves me too self-conscious to follow my impulse. I feel the urge like an itch in my hand, but I do not give in, and it makes me sad.
Perhaps it is because kids don’t intellectually analyse everything. They perceive the world through their primal instincts, their raw emotions and senses. They enjoy the sensual cocktail the world has to offer, while we adults analyse it to death, trying to guess the recipe. Perhaps it is that. Kids are unable to intellectualise. It’s not their mind that remembers, but their bodies. It’s the senses that give us true flashbacks – a smell, a song, a taste, because it addresses the medium through which the memory was created, and simulates that first impression. Maybe this is why I can’t connect to certain things… because I use my mind too much.
Sadly, when a child’s body, a child’s senses are the main receptor of the world, then there is hardly any defence. Things they cannot comprehend are terrifying. They say that children cannot distinguish between what’s real and what’s not real, but I don’t think that hits it exactly. What I read somewhere recently seems more accurate to me: that children, especially very young, and very sensitive ones, can’t easily draw a line between what’s coming from inside them and what’s coming from outside. What they sense and experience hits them much harder. The upside to that is that they can easily sensually connect to their environment. Perhaps I daresay, they are better at living to the fullest. The downside to that is that anything bad will affect them much more, because they have a harder time putting up a wall between their inner and the outer life. Or in the end, the opposite happens, because it gets too much, and they shut down. They stop noticing what’s around them because they need to in order not to break over it.
I guess with increasing age, people manage to build up this wall, or create that inner-outer distinction that essentially blunts their senses and perhaps even kills their sense of adventure. I wonder in how much extreme sports are attempts to blow up this wall and connect to this sense of being alive, create peak experiences that serve as landmarks in an otherwise dull life.
There is an amazing book that deals with that kind of thing: Douglas Coupland’s Life After God.
There is a character in it called Mark who says in one sentence what I feel about growing up: “I guess that’s what I feel is happening to me. I’m becoming nothing”.
And then there is another character called Donny who cuts himself to create his peak experiences, saying: “man, when that blade first digs into you it makes your soul leap out of your body for just a second, like a salmon jumping out of a river”.
It's just such a sad tale of people who were once innocent and alive and who end up drug addicts, fundamentalists, alcoholics, cynics, depressives and god knows what because they try with all might to fight this sense of dying, but know all the time that they are losing the battle.
Shit, they didn't tell us that when we were kids, eh? Pass the Prozac, please.