Noah and the Whale

June 20 2015

Would you trade the mountains and the deep sea for an abundance of fertile low land?

I have been yearning for heights ever since I was a kid. I climbed to the top of the beech tree in my parents’ back yard, I clambered on the roof of their barn and my preferred reading spot was the top of my bookcase, where I squeezed myself between the top shelve and the ceiling, until I grew too big and the bookcase collapsed.

When I was older, I tried to climb the highest peak of every new country I visited. Reaching a peak is always a euphoric experience.
I’m good at euphoric experiences. I never look for them, but I find them in spring days, in friends talking to friends, in traveling by train, in music, in the smell of a lawn mower and in the friendly greeting of a mentally retarded man at the supermarket. I find them in breathing the air and letting my feet take me wherever I want them to. I have a talent to marvel at little things, and I often feel happiness bubble up in my stomach, finding its way out through songs, dances and tears of pure bliss. It makes me feel like a loony, but I’m fine with being a happy loony.

It’s not always like this. High mountains lack oxygen, and one can only reside on their peaks for a short amount of time. As I descend from my peaks of euphoria, I nest myself in the valley, leading a normal life like most of us do. But while I’m there, an old fear of the deep sea starts to arise.

I am terrified of the deep sea. Its endless emptiness, its lack of sunlight and its hideous demons of the deep make my hands sweat when I think of it. Those demons are hollow-eyed creeps, sharp teethed, dead silent and elusive. They show up in the back of my head, nagging that “no, of course your life’s not worth it, because you fail to choose between an epic and an ethical life, and so you’re forever caught in the valley of mediocrity. Of course it’ll never be better, because after all deep philosophical thought, the baseline will always be that life itself has no real meaning outside the meaning you give to it, and if you’re not capable of enjoying it, you could just as well quit.” They disguise themselves as Truth and the harder I try to look away, the bigger they grow, until they take up every square inch of my head, leaving only room for the agony of wishing it would end-end-end.

Luckily, deep seas lack oxygen as well. My demons of the deep may eat me alive, but they always spit me out on the shores of my valley, like Jonah was spit out by the Whale after three days and nights of darkness.

The question is this: if it was possible, would I be able to say farewell to my beloved mountains, in order to deep sea demons? Could I bear to live with the peaks of euphoria in sight, realizing I will never again enjoy their splendid views? Should I sacrifice my highlands to rid myself of the emptiness, becoming even-minded and well balanced?

I think not. If I try to be less afraid of emptiness, and not to struggle when they try to eat me, maybe these monsters will be tamed. Maybe not. But as long as I can end up like Noah on mount Ararat when the water level falls, I will endure.

Groningen, Netherlands

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