For that friend way back then,
who took one path while I took another.
At Les deux Marie, sitting in front of my coffee, I watch a regular well engrossed in his daily crossword ritual. A slowly ingested poison robbing life of its meaning. Entering letters or numbers in little squares to spare ourselves from the obligation of being. Abolishing one’s freedom by investing it in meaningless endeavors amounts, as Jean-Paul Sartre would have said, to living one’s life in bad faith.
Dying a Slow Death
Once upon a time, when decision-makers were frequently assassinated – I can’t remember if it was a king, or even what poison he ingested – but the fact remains that he swallowed every day a homeopathic dose of the said poison, so that his body could get accustomed to it. He was hoping that such a daily diet might save him from death if his enemies ever conceived to do away with him. In short, he was poisoning himself methodically and in a civil manner, in case others might dare do so in a barbarian one.
Such a legend seems to sum up any automatic habit one recurs to, to let boredom pass or to ward it off by treating it in small doses. Which reminds me of Robert, an old friend I’ve lost sight of. He occasionally enjoyed dabbling with the crossword grid. Not to « kill time », mind you – odd expression really – but because of the challenge of outsmarting the puzzle editor. Robert refused to seek the help of short words, those which the crossword weaver doesn’t take the trouble of encrypting in imaginative descriptions; those which allow you to enter clues on the trail of the long ones. No, Robert was only interested in solving the long words. If that didn’t work, he might seek the help of the short words, but without writing them down on the grid.
A Chocolate Pandora
Which brought to my mind another memory. Robert was already a bit drunk, even though it was still early. We were chatting about drug use, about abuse and moderation. My old friend brought up the « urban myth » of the Smarties box which always reminded me of the Pandora’s box of the ancient Greek.
In Greek mythology, Pandora (which means « all-gifted », « all-giving ») had been created on the order of Zeus. He was seeking revenge upon men, Prometheus having stolen the fire from heaven. Zeus offered Pandora’s hand to Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother. She was bringing with her a mysterious box which Zeus forbade her to open. The box contained all the evils for mankind to suffer. But, in another version which interests me more, it also contained all the good things as well, for mankind to enjoy.
Let’s pretend that you have a box of magic Smarties, containing a certain amount of multicolored candies. They might as well be some sort of sophisticated pills or some specialized drug, whatever. Each one, depending on its color would bring you one specific period of one specific, guaranteed happiness. A pink candy would insure you a romantic encounter for the duration of one season; a yellow one, an unexpected but important monetary gain; a brown one, success at work for one trimester; the purple Smartie a euphoric, but lucid state of mind, and so on for the other colors: happiness but only for a limited period of time. As for the red candies, they will provide you with all the advantages at the same time! However, without you necessarily being unhappy, sick or unlucky, you will have no access to similar pleasures outside of those privileged periods. You will have to satisfy yourself with your little life of crossword puzzles.
So, What do You do ?
Such an image applies to drugs, vacations, money, sex, gambling and medication. But if you look at it as a myth, it presents the situation as a borderline case and brings it to the level of the gods. Robert’s question took me by surprise : what would you do with your candies?
And you, what would you do?
Would you, like a miser, preciously hoard them? Would you, like a pensioner, keep them for your old days? Would risk them as gamblers or investors do, hoping to increase your happiness market share at the expense of others? Would you try to sell them for some exorbitant price?
Would you save the red ones for last? Or would you greedily eat them all like a drug-addict? You might even want to eat them all at the same time! An exercise in extreme existence. To understand one’s attitude in such borderline and global situation would amount to clearly grasp the meaning of a happy life. It would also allow you to understand the hell in which the drug addict or the inveterate gambler finds himself once his box is empty.