(This post isn’t about The Sopranos, but if you’ve not made your way through it yet and are planning to, skip this.)
The screen went black, the music stopped mid-verse and I stared, astonished. I wanted to scream in anger. It was better than anything I’d expected and yet, immensely painful and frustrating. This isn’t how it should’ve ended, not after seven seasons. Not after sinking deep into the twisted, entertaining and complicated life of Tony Soprano. Leader, hypocrite, loving father, hedonist, megalomaniac. A criminal who got what he deserved. I should’ve seen it coming. But it still felt wrong. Perhaps because Tony Soprano died surrounded by those he loved most – his family – and what he wished to be a part of – America. At the moment of his death, he was most human, most vulnerable. Relatable, even.
It’s silly to think that television and movies could change your life in any way. You sit there for a couple of hours, take in someone’s point of view, contemplate it and move on. Entertainment should remain trivial in its consequences. Unfortunately I’m not wired that way. I get involved, and I begin to empathize with or despise characters. I draw parallels to people in my life or even myself in those situations. I get affected. I found myself contemplating the meaning of Tony Soprano’s death long after it had ended. It was orchestrated beautifully, purposefully and with impact. As he stares up at the door of the diner, catching the last thing he’ll ever see – his daughter – the screen cuts to black and silence. Even Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” gets as far as “…don’t stop..” and there’s a microsecond of space between the “stop” and “believing” that’s deliberately allowed to continue before it cuts off. Then, silence and black.
I’m trying, badly, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to describe how I felt about that black screen. I’ve always been curious about how different cultures interpret death. In a majority of cases there’s implied continuation, either in the netherworld or as reincarnation. In some form, we, or our selves, live on. Predicated on that concept is an entire ecosystem of morality and shaming. But it’s interesting to contemplate how it really ends. I don’t buy any of those Near-Death Experience stories, tending to consider them hallucinations. So there was something about that black screen that turned off the part of my brain open to inquiry about the nature of death. It was so stark, abrupt and it felt so REAL, that I am now convinced it can’t end any other way. There are no shining lights, angelic voices, a soul ascending to heaven, lifted by clouds and a booming voice welcoming it to eternal peace. Alternately, the ground doesn’t split open and no apparitions drag you down to the bowels of hell. There’s no purgatory. There’s no metamorphosis as your soul re-emerges as another physical being. There’s none of that at all. There’s void. Consciousness ceases to exist.
And while I don’t find that thought comforting, I find it very believable.
I wondered what this meant to me. Ironically, the prospect of such finality makes me want to enjoy life more. Now I see it as a collection of moments and I want each moment to be full of the richest experiences. I’d scoff at folks using phrases like “living life to the fullest”, but now I think I know what they mean.
I try and take pleasure in how my life is turning out – converting everything to an experience when possible. That of reading a book I like and trying to live the characters as I read it. Envisioning myself in those situations, making that moment richer. I’m reading more than I used to because I don’t know enough. I don’t know anything. In my twenties I had a box in my head titled Things I Wish I’d Known. I’ve now renamed it to Things I Now Know (Whee!). That subtle change has helped me evolve from a person constantly judging himself to someone who’s able to seek out smarter people and learn from them. I’ve been lucky to meet many such people in the course of my life and I regret not responding to those who reached out to me when I was younger and sillier.
I try and take more pleasure at work. The thing is, I enjoy what I do, but it’s not the most important thing in the world to me. Some folks love, and I mean absolutely love what they’re doing and throw themselves headlong into work. Eighteen, twenty hour days. I can understand if you’re an entrepreneur. It’s your creation and you’re trying to give it the best start in life. But I can’t let work dictate my life because I want it to have more dimensions, more richness. Instead I derive meaning from my work by focusing on how it helps others. I just love how some folks light up when you solve a problem with them. I seek out such moments where we work together to define a problem, explore its dimensions and start working through the many possible solutions. The eureka moments are extra special to me, because it’s a journey of discovery you’ve helped each other through. Indeed, it has helped build a few long-lasting friendships that have transcended from the professional to the personal. It’s exhilarating.
I take more pleasure in spending time with my son. I’ve lost the wriggling, restless little baby I knew. I’ve lost the babbling, impatient toddler I knew. I’m losing the curious, wide-eyed, sincere, friendly first grader I know now and who knows what memory of him I’ll lose tomorrow. Sometimes I’ll just sit quietly, watching him go about his business. Cutting this, opening that, scribbling something, coloring something else and suddenly he’ll exhibit a quirk he’s had as a baby – the way he’ll tilt his head, or stick a bit of his tongue out when he’s REALLY concentrating – and everything will come flooding back to me. Memories, buried under layers of the present, suddenly breaking through the clutter. At that point I’m living twice as much in the same moment. It’s indescribable.
On the other hand, this thirst for experiences has also made me an unreasonable, impatient person. I have no time or inclination to argue anymore, especially online. I still love being on Twitter and Facebook because I add to my knowledge and my social circle, but the sheer effort of engaging in debate is now a wasteful enterprise for me. Ad hominem or provocation out of the blue is usually dealt with by blocking and moving on. Perhaps they really have a point or want to engage but I just don’t have the time to go through that process of discovery and reconciliation anymore. Similarly, tiffs with my wife make me more miserable. I wish we’d move on quickly because every moment spent sulking is a moment together that’s wasted. But that’s unfair because it’s not how the process of dealing with and healing works and I tell myself that.
The otherwise average Keanu Reeves movie Constantine is remarkable in one respect. At its core is the implication that heaven and hell are right here on earth. But I don’t think you have to die, open portals through psychics or conduct seances to get to them. How you choose to fill each moment with experiences that elevate you beyond the mundane decide if you’re living heaven or hell. I’ll be doing my best to weigh every moment before the finale.