In my experience, one of the best ways to stop idealising a person, any person, is to remember, as you sit on the toilet, doing your no. 1s or no. 2s, is that everyone sits in the same undignified posture and completes the same undignified act around the world, throughout history—from the richest to the poorest, the beautiful to the ugly, the famous and the unknown—and often, mind you, multiple times in one day.
There’s something existentially lonely about sitting on the toilet, especially if you’re alone in the house, or doing your business in a public cubicle. Expelling waste is a private matter, reflecting the private nature of every aspect of our lives: no-one can urinate or excrete on your behalf, just as no-one can do the work needed to be done for you, or understand you, or make you happy, except, well, you. Private moments like these—others include lying in bed staring up at the ceiling or at the wall, or looking out the window and thinking to yourself—remind us of the one fact of life: that we are, no matter how many illusions we surround ourselves with, essentially, alone. Alone in our pain. In our efforts. Alone on the hospital table, when we are born, and alone on our deathbed.
Our joys, like our suffering, unfold in the privacy of our own hearts, holding meaning only for ourselves. No-one can live for you; no-one can die in your place; in life, there are many things, like going to the toilet, that you must do on your own. The reality is that for the entire duration of your life, it’s just you, inside the prison of your mind, looking out at the world and the people in it, who are trapped inside their own prisons, through bars.
For longer than I can remember, I used to hate this fact, revealing as it did another horrible fact—namely, that, really, none of us matter a great deal except to those within our social circle, and whose lives we have touched. The rest of the world, I guarantee you, would not give a fig if you or I died, and that is the way it should be, for there are simply too many people in the world for any of us to care about the suffering and deaths of each and everyone of them. Every couple of seconds, someone in the world dies. We don’t know them, we’re alive, we still have our life to live, so we don’t care. It’s not a bad thing, if you think about it, or a good thing. It just is. If anything, it can be utilized in a positive way, the knowledge of it reminding you just how important it is to pursue the things you want, not what society wants, or what you think you should want, because you might as well do what makes you feel happy (as long as it does not involve harming other people) seeing as no-one cares what you get up to or how you spend your time, anyway.
Letting this fact truly sink in also helps to make you feel more complete in yourself, and less afraid of loneliness. One of the things people chase and yearn for most in their lives is love, often in the paradigm of a loving relationship between two adult people. We all want the security and warmth of available in a loving family of our own. It’s a primal instinct, I think, to want to pair up and have children, seeing as it is an act replicated by the millions of species of organisms present on planet Earth.
But the problem is sometimes people believe that finding the perfect spouse, having the perfect family, is enough to complete and fulfill them, when nothing could be further from the truth. Starting a family can enhance your happiness, and reduce, not eliminate, your loneliness—but the core of your happiness comes down to you, your own personal efforts, and the meaning you create for yourself in life. It’s all internal.
One thing everyone begins to understand as they grow older is that reality has its limitations. In fact, the limitations are immense. In our imaginations, the perfect relationship is surrounded by a halo of golden light, promising days of endless love and happiness, but if you were to actually be in a relationship, after a while, you would grow accustomed to the person, and they would become as ordinary to be around as your family members and friends, your fantasy replaced by the monotonous reality that exists before your eyes right this moment.
Likewise, were you to have children, initially, especially in the hospital when you first hold the baby in your arms, the experience, like falling in love, would feel very wonderful and surreal. Gradually, however, you would be accustomed to having a beautiful, little person growing up in your home, and though it would still be wonderful, it will have become normal, and lost its “spark”.
That’s the way with everything, you see. For something to retain its “spark” some delusion is necessary on part of the person experiencing it. It’s why children take so much pleasure in things, why books and films you watched as kids seem sanctified in an aura of pure magic: back then, you weren’t aware reality had its limitations, so everything you saw shot millions of sparks like fireworks. As you grow older, you realise things. You watch a Behind-the-Scenes clip of your favourite movie, and discover how very unromantic and, to be honest, a little silly, the business of acting is (you have grown-ups running around on set, yelling like headless chickens, pretending they are being chased by fire-breathing monsters). You realise your parents are people, just like you. You realise no-one can save you, because they’re all just as scared and sometimes silly as you are.
Even books, if you think about it, are a little silly—they’re written by people sitting at their desks, alone, day after day, pretending certain people and worlds exist. Growing up, then, is about seeing how magicians do the tricks, peeping behind the curtains. The magic is still there, of course, but it’s not as vivid and wonderful as it was before, when you didn’t know any better and really thought a man had just been cut in half on stage.
That is what is at the heart of the melancholy of existence, I think, this disparity between fantasy and reality. We as human beings are very good at deluding ourselves. Delusion is a necessary tool of survival. If we constantly faced reality, were constantly aware of the speck of dust which we occupy relative to the rest of the universe and the shortness of our lives, the horrors and suffering in the world, we wouldn’t be able to function in our everyday lives. Depression, I believe, is often not so much a chemical imbalance in the brain as a period when the veil of illusions so many of us wrap around ourselves is momentarily broken or torn apart for an individual, exposing them to terrifying vacuity behind it.
Yet there is beauty in melancholy, excruciating beauty. If we were honest with ourselves, suffering, the cold, the cruel and the bittersweet, is what makes us feel most alive, and connected with each other. Humanity and life is made beautiful by its pain—without it, we wouldn’t have stories of people sacrificing themselves to save others, photographs of two people hugging each other on a bed, alone together in the universe, or find laughter so beautiful and sad at the same time, or treasure and love our pets to the extent that we do. One time, I read an article describing how two people, a man and a woman, who died within seconds of each other, were unearthed many years later with their skeletons entangled and their skulls tilted towards one another, and promptly started to cry, though I could not have told you, had you asked me at the time, if they were tears of joy or grief. That’s what I mean, you see: there’s just something excruciatingly beautiful about pain and joy we all share, the same awful predicament of being frightened, sentient beings living on a lump of rock spinning out its lonely life out in the middle of nowhere that we’re all in.
We all want love, and we’re all secretly slightly unsettled by the bones that shift and twist beneath our skin, the contours of our skull and jaw underneath our faces. We all face loneliness, the disappointing nature of reality, the long dark nights, the night sky, that awful restlessness when evening approaches and everything feels sad and empty, just as we all will one day come face-to-face with the immense, overwhelming mystery of life in that moment before we die and our minds and bodies are given up to the emptiness from whence we all came. In short, we all sit on the toilet—and that’s wonderful.