This year, like all previous ones, concludes with some of those that were with us at its beginning, remaining no longer so. This, as they say, is life. But how often do we ever think about life — this strange place of forms and patterns and mysteries and moments.
As far as we can observe, within the limits of our cognitive discernment, a featureless void is from where we come, a featureless void is where we finally go, and in between, for a few brief earthly moments, we breathe. We live.
As each year terminates to the birth of a new one, it gives us pause to observe the forward flow of time and to recalibrate our relation to it. We observe who we are, what we’ve become, how far we’ve come along, what we have gained, what we have lost. We use these transition points — between ends and beginnings — to try and reflect on themes we tend, often, to ignore, afraid this might disrupt us, stymie us, set us back in the race of life; a race which consumes most of our waking consciousness.
Because modern society, as it stands today, lacks capacity for deep inner reflection. It sets the ground rules, blows the whistle, and we faithfully sprint forward. Off to the finish line, we sprint.
Success. Winning. Growth. Productivity. These attainments, we are assured, are on the other side of the finish line, and the only metrics, we are told, worthy of veneration. We, in turn, are required to hit the ground running; run as fast as we can, as numbly and selfishly as we can, past the competition, past all the losers and stragglers, past it all till we finally cross over into that most rarified zone where no ‘loser’ has gone before. Therein lies ‘validation’; therein lies ‘status’ — or so we’re told. This validation, of course, is of the cosmetic kind, which comes not from some deep place of gratification, but from an external reference system which views all of life as a game, and its participants, competition.
But then something happens, a year comes to a close, or a dreaded memory comes back dressed as an anniversary, or some prominent person dies, and we are briefly thrown off about our mechanical orbits. Suddenly, a bump appears on life’s 8-lane freeway, and we’re forced to hit the brakes and take stock.
For Pakistanis, this year closes with the loss of Junaid Jamshed and the second anniversary of the APS massacre. JJ’s demise in a plane crash, the more recent of the two tragedies, continues to give us pause. For a man as alive as Junaid, his death is almost a contradiction of sorts. Because if the act of living is defined by the businesses of setting goals and pursuing them to their farthest extent, then JJ represented life like few others did. From a man whose voice would define the soundtrack of an entire generation’s youth, to a businessman, a philanthropist and a figure of hard faith, JJ lived and experienced what many wouldn’t and couldn’t in several lifetimes put together.
But it took one slight jitter, a marginal ripple in the state of things, to render one of Pakistan’s most celebrated singers to go from present-tense to past-tense. Many were left weeping, many more in shock. While this clearly testifies to the impact JJ had on our lives, it testifies equally to the fickleness of life and the power of the moment. All it takes, after all, is one brief moment in time for a lifetime of development and evolution, growth and loss, memories and experiences, triumphs and setbacks, additions and subtractions, to be cut short and brought to a sudden closure.
That single moment leaves us reminiscing of the life taken away, of lessons learnt, of memories left behind, before our 9-5s, our twitters and our newsfeeds, draw us back to the background noise of the quotidian — the day to day. It is easy to see how this post-shock normalisation is necessary to our survival and sanity. But perhaps, recognising and internalising the very fact of our own mortality, merits a greater share of our time than is currently the case.
This is all the more true today, when the ceaseless clockwork of the modern day is continuously eroding the character of our human experience — the cerebral subsuming the gut, compliance displacing creativity, and our expanding appetite for status and validation cannibalising our inner calling.
One could argue that there is, in fact, something liberating and empowering in the active awareness of life’s frailty and finitude. Because when we take the infinity out of life, suddenly the risks we attach to every decision — big or small — appear less scary. So for all those who’ve wanted something intensely but were too scared to take the plunge, too risk-averse to break free from the mothership — cut their ropes, slip their chains, carry an idea, desire or passion to its ultimate fulfillment; all those who’ve grown up conditioned to calculate life’s every step, to live by every letter of a script that they did not write, who’ve surrendered the act of dreaming to states of sleep and nothing more, as they ricochet helplessly within the boundaries and tunnels they create for themselves, those are the people who more than anyone would benefit most by parting, if momentarily, from the monotonic hum of business as usual.
Connecting with the numinous inner dimension of our lives might even drive in us more empathy and compassion. As modern systems of ruthless production and consumption, of supply and demand, of quarterly profits and annual growths, feed on our base insecurities and fears, displacing us from an organic communitarian existence to our digital solipsistic silos of discontent, we might be rapidly losing touch with our humanity. Because the human story is as much a story of loss as it is of gains and growth. And with the sense of loss, comes perspective. And perspective, the ability to shift our vantage with an elevated view of humanity, is what we need most as we stride into the new year.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2016.
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