Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Scratching a Nietzsche

For a couple of days now I have been complaining that the nail on my right little toe has been hurting, because I accidentally pulled half of it out and now it's a bit sore.

You might think that this is a minor injury, but perhaps not when I inform you that there was actually a spot of blood when I did it. And the side went all red and swollen for, like, maybe half an hour afterwards.

I say complaining, but not a huge amount because I am, and this is objective fact, super-rufty-tufty, and you would barely notice my limp were I not wailing and dragging the affected limb behind me like a crocodile's tail.

Then yesterday I met a great chap called Paul, in his eighty-ninth year, who told me how he lost an eye in a Lancaster bomber in 1943. He was a front gunner and, after about twenty searchlights cheerily lit up his plane somewhere over Essen, flack exploded in front of them, shattering the perspex of his canopy and sending shards throughout his confined space in the nose. One shard entered his eye, bouncing of the back of his socket and exited via his forehead. The Lancaster limped home, the crew all surviving and he was patched up, with the damaged organ removed and replaced with a prosthesis.

He described how he had adapted well to this because he "had a spare".

Then, in his early eighties, he suffered a stroke, leaving him with mobility problems as the whole left side of his body was affected. Again, he had adapted superbly, walking with a stick and adjusting his lifestyle accordingly telling me "It could have been worse, and I've got a spare arm and leg as well!"

This gave me pause. I thought about what I had just heard and seen. About Paul's eye and my toe. About Paul's arm and my toe. About Paul's leg and my toe. About Paul's general stoicism in the face of adversity. And my toe.

You might not be surprised to learn that I came to understand something of myself after that. Not just myself in fact, but of all of us. Our suffering means nothing to the cosmos. Call it self-realisation, or an awareness of  one's own humanity in the face of nihilism, or maybe even call it enlightenment, but those thoughts took me to a conclusion I had never reached before.

I realised we have a lot in common, Paul and I, because I also have a spare toe.

In this little spark of clarity that we call existence, this flitting sparrow of life flying briefly through the banquet hall of eternity from one dark window to the next, don't we all have a spare toe.

Yes we do.We all have a spare toe.

Unless, you know, you haven't, in which case, sorry about that. Have you tried wearing Crocs?