Rest, peace, tranquillity – all appealing concepts. Inertia sounds less inviting, but what else is rest?
Then there is the elephant in the room: death.
Sooner or later, all of us will be unable to move. We will be inert. If the soul, spirit or life-essence can survive on its own (as I suspect it can), it will leave the limp flesh behind. The greatest athletes, those who have physical abilities I could probably never attain, even with training, will eventually find that nothing works. The body will have run its course and be ready for retirement.
We don’t like to believe this. We also don’t like to admit that death has ever tempted us. In Western culture, there is a widespread belief that suicide is always a symptom of mental illness, and that a truly sane person would want to live forever, even in a deteriorating body. In Christian terms (specifically according to Catholic rules), suicide is a great sin, parallel to murder. It is a violation of God’s will.
Then there is the difficulty of reaching a state of eternal rest. As Dorothy Parker put it:
"Razors pain you,/Rivers are damp,/Acids stain you,/And drugs cause cramp./Guns aren’t lawful,*/Nooses give./Gas smells awful./You might as well live.”
*apparently less legal in Canada than in the U.S.
There you have it: a neat explanation for why I am still here – and why many other people are still alive, even though they have been told in various ways that they are using up too much air to which they are not entitled.
When I reached puberty, and my body developed into the shape, more-or-less, that it still has, I was told by everyone around me that women’s bodies (va-va-voom!) are beautiful, fascinating, an endless inspiration to artists, rapists, and serial killers. I was supposed to feel blessed. I was also supposed to be filled with shame, according to all the followers of Saint Paul.
For the rest of my life, as far as I could see, everyone around me would be so distracted by the appearance of my body (which would always be breathtakingly glamorous or breathtakingly hideous – there was no middle ground) that I could hardly expect them to notice any part of me that wasn’t physical.
There were “women’s magazines” to help me define my “figure problems” and try to fix them. There were numerous products to help me look my best. I was supposed to feel grateful for all the help.
When guys noticed me in public places, and yelled out comments about my body and what they wanted to do to it, I was supposed to figure out what I had done to attract the wrong kind of attention, and resolve to stop doing that to myself.
There seemed to be only one way out of the giant fishnet of double-binds. If I were not living in my body, no one could mistake it for me. Anyone could do whatever they wanted to the empty shell, and I wouldn’t care. I would not be living there.
There are various ways to go partway there. One can “disassociate,” as psychologists put it, by choosing not to be fully present in one’s body in the moment. One can try hard to live somewhere else. One can develop an “eating disorder,” which tends to shrink the body, possibly to the point at which it can no longer survive.
One can boldly go where many have gone before: swallow something that seems likely to cause death. In my case, they were sleeping pills, available without a prescription, because I wanted to avoid excruciating pain, if possible (I had read about the results of swallowing caustic household products) and I didn’t know where to get something powerful and illegal, such as heroin. I’ve always wondered if the pills would have worked, if I hadn’t been found in time.
I only tried it once. Failing at suicide seemed even more pitiful than continuing to live in a body that would always be vulnerable to attack.
So I am still “ert,” if that is the alternative to being inert. I wake up every morning, wash, dress, make myself as presentable as possible, go here and go there.
I assume I am much closer to eternal rest from “natural causes,” however those are defined, than I was at age nineteen. Maybe that’s why suicide no longer feels tempting.
I’m willing to ease into long-term inertia little by little. I’m sure I’ll get there soon enough.