Msnowe's Blog

Melancholy Moods and Wandering While Waiting

Posted in Heidegger, New York, Waiting by m.snowe on July 22, 2008

Despite how many people constantly try to define the City as one thing or another, it’s obvious that to any one person, at any one time, the city can and will inspire differing emotions.

Once, a friend who was familiar with the packed streets of Hong Kong and other Asian cities made the offhand comment that New York was the best possible place to be “surrounded, packed wall to wall with people, and yet feel completely and utterly alone.” Well, keeping all razor blades at a safe distance from your wrists–we regret to inform you that in some circumstances this can ring true. It is, however, a short-lived experience of loneliness, if that helps. Despite the best attempts to stay in a sorrowful or forlorn mood, the city is almost asking you to get out of yourself while you walk the street. The city is not like your life-long friend, offering condolences, but more like your pushy aunt or crazy neighbor–annoying you just enough so you’re too pissed or distracted to remember just exactly what you were too pissed or distracted with five minutes ago. The subways stall, someone steps on the back of your shoe, a street advertiser for the comedy show around the corner heckles you. The question to be asked is whether life is lived when you’re contemplating your life, or when you’re telling off, under your breath, the guy who budged you in the coffee line. Once and a while, you’ll meet a friendly stranger, or someone who actually gives to the poor, or helps out an elderly person. But those experiences are few and far between, and because they are so, they are often met with shock, contempt, or even a conniving sense that something must be “in it for them,” when in fact the exact opposite is probably true. Amidst all this outer chaos, the coffee stains, and contemplation, you can never really be alone.

The city is also a great place to roam while trying to forget that you are, in fact, waiting for something. Now, not all the time–but in those instances when you have plans, or are walking from one place to the next. Some might say that the city is in fact a large, concrete distraction–but it’s better and simultaneously worse than that. Waiting is, by definition the suspension of some hoped-for event. The hope might be the positive, anticipatory kind, or the egregious hope that comes with wanting something to be over quickly.

More waiting is done on a regular basis than the events themselves waited for, if they occur at all. Of course, the worst form of waiting is done when the hoped for event is sincerely wished yet completely and undeniably unlikely to ever occur. The funny part of such waiting is that we, as a species, still have the genetic predisposition towards a triumvirate of combined gumption, fortitude, and stupidity that makes us able to wait. Our tendency to accept the dilatory days, weeks, and years is an accomplishment, but one tinged with regret and futility. Once every now and then, we are given what could be described as the “Heideggerian Wake-Up Call”–We are smacked with the reality of the possibility that everything can and will be taken away. Perhaps someone dies, or nearly dies–and suddenly a new sense of purpose is added, like a sweetener to our life-drink, and everything we do is heightened, analyzed for it’s purpose, disregarded for it’s superficiality, etc. Heidegger judged death not as a single event, but an event of nearly unlimited moments. In other words, he believed that every passing moment was the equivalent of a “little” death, and that what lay in front of all people was not some unknown future of life, but nothing…a blank space that people hope contains future life, when in actuality, it contains a void. Heidegger’s scholarship on “Being” is some of the more difficult out there, but it’s well worth the trouble. Because once you realize that the blank space is blank, it instills a sense that what you are now, is all you can bank on, scarily enough. But people can’t live their lives in a way that only acknowledges the present–at least most don’t attempt to. But there has to be some less-precarious medium, where we are allowed to bank on a future while knowing that we must do our best to make the most of the present. It is the feeling that we are unable to steer the present or nearly-present that gets everybody in a twist, whether they are aware of it or not. So we’ve made Waiting a noble sport. And where better to play than New York?

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