Dear Loneliness

September 25, 2008

Underwater, day 31

Dear Loneliness,

I hope my missive finds you in good health. I regret I cannot convey this to you face to face; I hope you are not offended.

My memory fails me when I ask it to reconstruct how we met. Perhaps if I knew the precise minute or year you came into my life, I could better understand you; but I’ll tell you what I did puzzle out. You first winked at me out of the pages of a book. Then you whispered to me from the notes of a song. Then you gained substance through the dial-up modem. Then one day I woke up and you were my shadow, and you never asked for permission. Or did I become your shadow?

Old pal, allow me to applaud you slowly for your cunning. It has undoubtedly taken you years to perfect your art, but your most brilliant stroke was yet to come.

And you will surely deny this, my friend, but I am pretty certain that my reasoning is valid. You knew you ran the risk of being exposed sooner or later, so you transformed your presence from desire — to need. You made yourself so soft and comfortable that even the slightest disapproval from the world outside made me run back to you for cover. You have always been the one to pat my shoulder and my ego whenever I got humiliated or criticized, and you conveniently forgot to mention that trial and error were part of life, too. You silently encouraged me to surround myself with weak, lesser people, people I could dominate; and cringe away whenever I felt inadequate. Of course you never told me that the top of the mountain was the worst place to be. Instead of teaching me to observe and learn and be humble, you advised me to find flaws and smirk and deny.

It is but righteous fate then, my friend, that turns my smirk at you this time.

You see big L, you gave yourself away. Perhaps your fate was set in sparkling stones light-years away, or perhaps you carved it yourself, though I am clueless as to why you would… and who am I to tell you who to be? You showed me your greatest flaw, and it took me so long to understand what I saw.

I was walking in the middle of the street, noises flying past me, counterclockwise. The two yellow lines under my feet seemed to stretch ahead endlessly, and I was just thinking that if they were a large enough circle, I would never find out. Then a lamppost walked past me, in the opposite direction. And suddenly you were on the street in front of me. I don’t know what drew my eyes towards you, my shadow, but I saw something extraordinary. There was another shadow on the asphalt: someone must have been walking on the sidewalk. And you shadows were holding hands.

You fascinated me in that moment. I wanted to stop and see if you would go on without me. But since you didn’t seem to notice my startled gasp (I still don’t know whether you are deaf, my quiet friend), I just went on like nothing has happened.

I’ve been thinking about that ever since, Loneliness, and what it meant. Today I think I am close to the answer. Perhaps an outsider would call it obvious, but nothing is obvious unless (or until) you believe it. Anyway my friend, here is my greatest complaint to you. You are lonely.

You want a shadow friend more than anything else. You’d even sacrifice your carefully built facade just to be with her.

Which makes me wonder: why are you lonely? Are you blaming a shadow too, like I am? Will someone some day blame me for their loneliness? I dread the day I receive this letter.

So what now, you ask? My friend, I do not know. But I shall be looking for a new shadow.

Fare thee well!

P.S. Stop trying; I changed the locks.

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Nineteen Minutes

February 10, 2008

What could possibly make a person walk into a school with four guns and kill ten people? You’ll give a different answer after reading this book.

I could hardly put it out of my mind after the first sentence, and probably for a lot of time after the last one. I loved the way Jodi Picoult gets inside the minds of the characters, without judging them. I also loved the way the book is structured: starting with the incident and then, like a movie, alternating between moments of time before and after. These clear-cut scenes are interspersed with short insights from Peter, which carry the most emotional charge (To anyone who cares…). If you are like me and find it hard to remember the characters’ names initially, you might find this exposition technique somewhat confusing, but I bet you’ll appreciate it in the end.

Overall this is one of the best novels I’ve read. I’m definitely going to look for more books by the author. If I could change one thing about this one though, I would cut in half the amount of text dedicated to the courtroom.

Some ideas that this book touches upon:

  • High school, like any society, is divided into two categories of people: the cool and popular (unhappy because they have to wear a mask all the time), and the uncool and unpopular (unhappy because they are lonely etc.)
  • Some people see suicide as an extreme communication device.
  • Life/society/school/democracy sucks, but it’s the best thing we’ve got so far.
  • When we’re sitting in front of the TV, we appreciate the fact that the media is able to keep us informed, but we rarely think of how the same media intrudes in the lives of those we see on the screen.
  • The fear of losing control; the desire to live within predictability, and what happens when that balance is lost.
  • What happens when someone we love does something we would never have expected (Peter — Lacy and Lewis; Josie — Alex).
  • There is no clearly-defined line between childhood and adulthood, yet the rights we give a person and the way we judge them are a function of biological age.
  • How the same thing carries different meanings to different people.
  • Do you still want the truth if it hurts?
  • Nothing we do is guaranteed to be good or bad in the long run.
  • Ultimately, revenge doesn’t change anything.
  • Life goes on. The human capacity to get over things is sometimes astounding.

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