The Hours, the Days, and the Years

Sometimes interesting things happen when you watch two totally incongruous movies back-to-back. I had such an experience this week when I watched "The Matrix" on DVD, followed by "The Hours". And while Stephen Daldry's beautiful film with Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf seems to have little in common with "The Matrix", it occurred to me that there are some points of connection.

There are no computers and no kung fu fights in "The Hours"; and when people fall out of buildings, they don't get up again. And yet, like the denizens of the apocalyptic world of "The Matrix", many of the characters seem to live in an invisible prison - one they cannot "smell or taste or touch". And some of them, like Neo and the other inhabitants of Zion, choose to confront the reality of their world - even if it is unpleasant and dangerous, even if it threatens their very sanity. Virginia Woolf has no use for the comforting retreat of the suburbs, and precious little patience for the well-intentioned efforts of others to "take care" of her. She, too, prefers "always to look life in the face, and to know it ... to love it, for what it is." She is a red-pill person.

But there are many kinds of prisons. Mental illness - Virginia's depression, Richard's schizophrenia - can also be a prison. Sometimes the only way to exercise your autonomy is to have some say (as Virginia says) in your "own prescription", just as Neo must choose for himself which pill to take. (Or like Richard, who simply takes too many pills.) The choice is in your hands; but once the choice is made, you must live with the consequences.

I live alone, and spend a great deal of time in my own company. Often, this blog is the only conversation I get during the day. It's a strange conversation, the one you and I are having: we do not meet face to face, and with the exception of a few friends who read my blog, we are probably strangers to each other. All you know about me is what you read here; and all I know of you is the anonymous statistics collected by SiteMeter.

Sometimes I have a certain feeling - as if something is wrong, it's not fitting together somehow, and it's not a problem that's definable, and it's not a problem that is fixable. As if no matter where I go or what I do, I'll always be surrounded by this invisible membrane that keeps me separated and locked away from the rest of the world, from humanity, from life. I don't even know what name to call it; I don't know if it has a name.

I do know that I can make my own choices. I do not want anyone making them for me. I don't want anyone telling me how to live, or what to read, or what to listen to, or how to think. I don't want anyone feeding me pre-digested answers like some kind of processed food. And I do not want to be stuffed into some kind of mental coccoon and told that it's for my own good.

We do not get a choice whether or not to die. That decision is made for us, and in the end, without exception, it will always end the same way. The choice we do get is whether to face each and every day. Sometimes it is not an easy choice. Even the most fortunate among us may inhabit prisons invisible to others. Freedom from fear does not, alas, bring freedom from suffering. To choose, consciously, to live each and every day that is given to us - to say with Audre Lorde, "Today is not the day" - this is the real test of our humanity.

We are at our most when we forget ourselves. Clarissa is sustained through the difficult years - which seem to go on and on - by her duty to her old lover. ("When I'm gone," Richard mockingly reminds her, "you'll have to think about yourself.") Neo can fulfill his mission only after the Oracle convinces him that he is not "the One", the messiah of Zion.

When Virginia walks into the river, she makes a choice that many of us have contemplated at one time or another. Perhaps, like many people who make the same choice, she is no longer the master of her own actions. Do such people sin by this act? Perhaps that is for the Righteous Judge to decide. What we do know with a certainty is this: That just as the actions and kindnesses of others have affected our own lives, so too do we affect the lives of others, even in ways that are hidden from us. We have the choice to extend and accept such kindnesses - whether in the form of a fancy dinner or a simple cookie - at every moment we draw breath. By choosing kindness and love, we also choose conflict and suffering; but we choose life.