This is the tale of a text message.
And the opposing hemispheres of the brain. And about waiting. It began a few years ago on a Saturday morning of Spring when I came across my friend Will standing especially morosely in the queue of a coffee shop. Knowing he was in the seedling stages of a romance I asked him how it was going. Awful, he replied. I was fine until ten minutes ago. What happened, I asked. I fucking texted her. Now I’m fucked. Every minute that goes by until she texts back is a complete hell. I just nuked my whole morning.
At some point in my past, my brain started working in this strange way that was hellbent on trying to link two ideas together. Like the time I realised the life-cycle of a leaf was a meditation on growing old. Or how my fear of police sirens was my inner child fleeing parental authority. I’d make these pretty banal connections and sit back and feel like Carl Jung.
But one tenuous link eluded me. I knew it meant something, but whatever that was had me stumped. I’d always kept my phone on silent, so I wouldn’t be bothered by the beeping, but I couldn’t work out why. My gut told me it was a dislike for loud intrusive noises or a luddite relationship to technology, or simply not wanting to be disturbed while I concentrated on something.
But this explanation never did it for me. It was something deeper.
And so I found myself the other day wandering the streets of Rome, in a state familiar to my mate Will that day outside the coffee shop, waiting on a text message. Feeling my day being eaten up by angst. When I was supposed to be taking in the beauty of the ancient capital of the world, all I could think about was this stupid little box of plastic in my pocket. And I just kept checking it. And checking it. And getting more and more angry with myself for caring.
My friend Jonty who was with me, and who I was submitting to the tortures of my uncertainty, told me about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere, he said, is the linear, problem-solving, logistical sphere. The right brain is more creative, holistic and eternal. With my mind still consumed by the lone antidote I sought for the unbearable pain of my life, I heard him say mate… just be more right brain about the whole thing.
Put your phone on loud. That way if you get a message, you’ll hear it.
You won’t have to check it all the time.
Like the Ignudi sent from the heavens on the Sistine Chapel ceiling not far away, the solution to my silent-mode question descended from on high sent by a celestial hand. It wasn’t about being bothered by the beeping, it was the opposite. I kept my phone on silent because of hope. As long as my phone was on silent, I held out a hope there might be something on it I needed to read, that I hadn’t checked yet. With my phone on silent, I was close to a message all the time, because silence meant its opposite, it meant everything. Ask Andy Dufresne.
Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things.
And no good thing ever dies.
I realised what I feared most was what silence stood for when my phone was on loud. It stood for nothing at all. For rejection. For being achingly alone.
Have patience with everything that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which could not be given to you, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Rainer Maria Rilke
So I took the plunge and stuck my phone on loud. So I could really know what silence was. That it was exactly that. Silent. And I could learn to sit in it. To love the questions themselves liked locked doors or books written in a very foreign tongue, and leave the answers alone.
Along many meandering conversations Jonty and I spoke of presence, and of being thankful for being itself. That there were really only a few things in life worth complaining about, and heartache definitely wasn’t one of them. The mere sense of living was joy enough.
One late afternoon in Rome as we sheltered in the cool of the apartment as the last rays of Italian sun found their way through the shutters, I spied my phone lying on the table, discretely minding its business, with its new functionality, ready to sound out if anything came its way. And I gazed at the shafts of light knifing the darkness, and felt a contentment wash over me. A contentment that came from sitting in the unknowing and the blessed unrest. To wait for this thing to come knocking, if it did at all, that I would hear its knock when it came.