What made you feel alive today? What made today mean something?
The science labs at my school were always too hot.
Sixties breeze block cells, the windows only ever opened the merest crack in case the unruly proletariat children destined for this factory-esque comprehensive tried to escape. Worn stools stood at the rows of scarred benches, tattooed by wave after wave of unengaged, disaffected youth.
Due to an unfortunate early accident in the chemistry lab I was often banned from hands-on lab work and science became a lesson where I propped my face on my hand and doodled, the wooden stool edge leaving red lines in my sweaty thighs. Mr monotone Brown didn’t exactly help. When I hear people in education debating furiously how important it is to turn a new generation ‘on’ to science and mathematics as exciting, diverting, creative career choices I always feel like offering up my teenage timetable as a prime example of where we’re going wrong.
Which is why this lesson stands out in my memory. Lecturing to a distracted class Mr Brown was droning about atoms. Possibly I was the only one listening, I don’t think he noticed my electric arrested posture. The idea of atoms pierced my misery. The news they were mostly composed of space. That we were built from gaps. My poor battered fractured self grasped this news and took it very much to what was left of my heart.
I was struggling with trying to slot back into a life that hadn’t fitted that well before. I wanted to go back in time and make everything right. I wanted to fit snuggly into my family group like the jigsaw piece that had been merely mislaid. I wanted to lounge and giggle and flirt with my friends and plan a future.
My vision of proper normal complete people was as solid building blocks. Fitting together in communal cohesion. Out ‘there’ I surmised was the other half of my plato inspired complete sphere.
That day I waited for the bus lost in the thought that we were all atoms whirling and spinning randomly in bigger voids that I had dreamed of. I saw us as essentially alone, occasionally smashing into one another, sparking brightly. Composed of gaps we slip and slide through each other, fleetingly touching, always moving away yet together.
I’ll agree that may sound slightly, how can I put it, emo but I believe it was this thought that saved my life.
We are alone when we are born and alone in death. Our thought are ours alone, we may seek to share them but only we are privy to the secrets of our hearts. We share our lives with others. I do – joyfully – but we are not parts of a whole we are separate, colliding, swirling in collusion.
In gray hard times I retreat into myself, spin faster, avoid others. I imagine the people I love casting out silken threads to touch me. Webs of communication and love and understanding.
Lost in questioning misery today I was gifted with the physical relief of an undemonstrative friend offering a shoulder to rest my heavy head on, swollen as it was with pent-up, unshed tears. The act is a silken cord from her nucleus to mine. Tethered peacefully I press against the weight of her, my eyelids pressed against her corporeality until I see starbursts. Then we push away from each other. Sustained and comforted.
So every day I try to collide somewhere. For mutual benefit. Like a tightrope walker spinning the line before them as they walk I attempt to bridge the distances between us whilst revelling in the gaps. I cast out gossamer silks to Steve, Zeph and Ida, my family, my friends, the person I pass on the street – of love, hope and communication. I steer my unruly, unwieldy self into collision, pivoting into the tumult – I savour the sparks. I celebrate the spaces, expanding into them, dancing and wheeling through them.
Recently I sit here, before a screen, writing these words. Like a baby spider casting its thread into the air to see where it will carry them. Often I’ve read something that has connected and vibrated and helped. I send these chaotic jumbled thoughts out in optimism to someone I don’t know, somewhere I’ve never seen and wonder if they’ll resonate.
Connection, I strive for it every day.