I can’t believe this is actually happening to me.
This is one of those phrases, concepts even, that many people have thought or felt at some point in their lives. It may be when something wonderful happens, like a lottery win or an exchange of vows. It may be something surreal, like Bill Murray buying you a drink in one of his notorious bar pranks. It may be the downright agonizing, like losing a job via a casual phone call or feeling your body flying helplessly through the air, milliseconds from slamming into the ground. Oftentimes, the reality of life is difficult to believe. Not only is truth stranger than fiction, but there is a noteworthy disconnect between our expectations, our perceptions, and the unflinching march of time.
This thought has crossed my mind many times lately. It may be because of a disproportionate amount of experiences that are outliers from the unsurprising norm, or it may be because of an imperceptible schism between perception and reality—that nearly every experience feels somehow shocking and surreal solely because it has the timbre of an out of body experience. Anyone familiar with the subtle disconnect and disbelief that this feeling brings knows that it is exhausting. The way it feels every time you sign a piece of paper and immediately wonder what you just did, every time you wake up again and feel vaguely surprised and worn out, each time a name pops up on your phone with the particular disembodied feeling that the 21st Century has brought to the human experience.
Maybe the problem is that society has become so tame and predictable that anything outside the expected norm feels shocking in a muted way. Maybe it’s that some of us have brains which have an overdeveloped sense of self-awareness, or perhaps a minor delay in signal processing, so that they are able to reflect on things even as they unfold and can note the merciless, unbelievable onslaught of time and space.
Whatever the cause, it is indeed surreal to realize that things are actually happening to us. Ready or not, time marches on. Eventually, even inaction is met with action by default. People move on, pass on, go on. Wrinkles form, resumes become stale, restaurants close, friends marry and divorce and move to new cities to follow their careers. It all happens, and it all happens around us every day.
On days like this one, when the flu virus and all the medicine required to keep it at bay make what’s left of my brain feel like it’s in the clouds a million miles above my cranium, I cannot help but observe the world’s unfolding with a curious detachment. People come and go, step on snails on sidewalks, make deals, and punch clocks. I sit and yearn for a more normal biological function, anything to make the frayed nerve ends known as ‘body aches’ subside. Anything to clear out this congestion so that my head needn’t rely on Pseudoephedrine to get a wheezy breath. In the throes of illness, sometimes the very act of keeping one’s eyes open and head up becomes such a chore that it would be preferable to hit the off switch, at least for a few days. In a way, this is a more acute and visceral version of the overwhelming onslaught of reality, the ‘this’ that happens to all of us, every day. The tenaciousness of virus forces us to reckon with the fragile biology that envelops our complex souls.
So often, the torture inflicted on a soul is not really of the soul realm. It’s of everything else. The bills that pile up, the unspoken expectations around us, the innocuous judgments that get passed on us for making decisions that we at least thought were good ones at the time. The gap between desire and reality, between the present and the future, between ourselves and the people we long to be near. Our souls feel this, but it is our finite bodies which are stuck covering the miles and earning the dollars to give the soul a chance. The body grows weary, takes medicine which is said to improve its own function, wars with itself to fight off attacks and improve its own wellbeing.