Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living? — Bob Marley
I’ve spent the last few days in a community where Bingo is the highlight of their day, though half lack the mental faculties to know how to play. When the call for Bingo is shouted down the halls, the inhabitants empty their cells into the hallway, a slow motion zombie crawl on wheels, each dragging their wheelchair with their heels and feeble pushes of their spindly arms. When they get to the narrow rubber strip that marks the edge of the dining hall they pile up in a glacial traffic jam while they struggle to cross the eighth-inch high barrier. Once inside, they fight for their favorite spots and even their favorite cards. Then they wait in anticipation, slumped sideways in their chairs, mouths lolling open, and soon forget why they are there.
It’s a community production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I was trapped inside. I began taking on the mannerisms of the inhabitants. I shuffled about, head down. I ate my food with deliberate precision, as if a misstep would have catastrophic consequences. I dabbed at my mouth multiple times with my napkin, just to be sure.
I started making plans, if not for escape at least for rebellion. I was determined not to be trapped in my cell and secretly admired the few who spent all day pacing. I think I knew where they come from. I felt akin with them.
That’s a frightening thing. I never want to live this way, life only in the most technical term. Any type of human recycling project would be preferable to this existence. I prefer to be compost than to be eighty.
You must be alive, however, before you can be compost. Bags of dried bones do not decompose, never get to nourish a new generation of life, never get to give meaning to their existence. What was most evident in Bingo Land was the utter lack of passion. There was nothing to live for. Even their fights over trivialities were more ritual than substance.
I would like to think that if I were incarcerated in such a prison that I would be the exception, the heroic one with many meaningful projects to pull me into each new day. But I don’t live that way now. What miracle do I expect to happen in the near future?
I’ve said it before: life is a verb. You do not find meaning in life, you provide it. The ending is driven by what preceded it. When our Compost Day comes, we want to provide heat to the pile and properly close out the cycle of life. Done properly, the end will illuminate all the rest.