I think we all remember that scene in The Matrix when Neo is given a choice between the blue or red pill. Morpheus tells Neo; “There is no going back. You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” Neo took the red pill and so did I.
Metaphorically speaking, I have always chosen to stay awake, to not be lured by the seduction of blissful ignorance. I don’t allow myself to slip into a haze of denial. I try to live my life with my eyes wide open, aware of what is going on around me, and how my actions or inactivity affect others. I used to sneer at people who lived their lives in a consumeristic haze, people who purposely averted their eyes from anything unpleasant, ugly, or harsh. I pitied those individuals living their lives in a superficial manner, moving from purchase to purchase, lulled into oblivion on the tit of consumption. For me, they were the epitome of emptiness. I was so very smug in my self-righteousness. But something recently changed in me.
I was at the chiropractor’s getting another costly adjustment to my tension-filled neck and listening to him ramble on about his possessions, his life-style accouterments, his North American-style dolce vita. I know from our one-sided conversations that he has a wife and a couple of kids. I know that his wife keeps the home running smoothly and is ‘a really good little home-maker’. Their kids are carefully closeted from ‘unpleasant realities stealing their innocence like those stinking bums downtown’. He has a yacht he never uses and loves golf. He doesn’t think about the water it takes to keep his greens green or that the land could be put to better use. He has a couple of cars, I have heard mention of at least two different SUVs and he definitely doesn’t think about where his oil comes from. He believed Saddam Hussein was a threat to ‘our national security’. He knows global warming is a hoax.
Over the course of my visits, he has slowly revealed himself to me, as painfully self-absorbed and unbelievably narcissistic. He doesn’t appear to have even a semblance of a social conscious, let alone any global awareness.
When I looked into his big brown eyes I felt a longing so profound my knees started shaking.
At first it used to infuriate me and I would spend the majority of my visits (the total eleven minute duration of them) trying to change his views. But this eventually led to arguing which led to raised voices and even one slammed door. I think he sometimes gave my neck an extra twist or two to try to shut me up. I couldn’t figure out why this guy was irritating me so much until he started talking about Sunday drives with his family.
He told me he liked to take ‘his little family unit’ on outings to see some ‘nature’. He explained how the kids enjoyed watching a Disney movie on the television in the SUV, how he and his wife would stop at Starbucks for some ‘decent coffee and home-baked snacks’ to enjoy while they drove. He told me in great detail, with pride thickening his voice, about these family drives and at first I wanted to laugh at the sheer surrealism of their outings into the country.
In fact, I turned to tell him that I found his vision of perfection nauseating, ludicrous even, when I looked into his big brown eyes and felt a longing so profound my knees started shaking. All my snappy come-backs and stern judgments froze in my throat.
I couldn’t form any words or even a coherent thought. Instead, I ran from the room and into the bathroom and I got sick, violently sick. And as I was wiping vomit off my mouth, I realized that I was literally ill from longing.
I wasn’t longing for this guy, but I was longing to be this guy or maybe even his Sandra-Dee wife in the passenger seat of their $70,000 custom SUV or maybe even one of his Gap-clad kids in the back seat. I wanted, even for one day, to live in a body with a brain that didn’t think about anyone else but myself. I wanted to be self-absorbed and narcissistic so bad that it made me puke.
I wanted back into The Matrix and if Morpheus’ beautiful black hand had appeared, I would have grabbed for that blue pill with shaking fingers. I wanted so very badly to not think about who is suffering so I can drive a car or heat my home, who is making my clothes, under what conditions and for how much money, who is homeless while I sleep in a big house, who is going hungry while I can gorge myself, and on and on. I wanted just for one moment to not think about the unpleasant realities of the world, to undo my costly liberal humanities’ education which trained me to think about how my privilege results in someone else’s oppression, how everything I do and every single choice I make affects the larger world. I was so weary of thinking and caring that for a brief moment I wanted to be ignorant so bad it had made me physically sick.
But that awful feeling quickly passed.
I have stopped going to the chiropractor, my neck still hurts, but I am feeling much better. I know that my longing was really only a temporary sickness, a weak moment. I know I want to live in the world with a social conscious, I want to be a part of the community that I live in, and if it means a stiff neck or a few tension headaches it is still worth it. I tell myself that it is better to be angry and awake than ignorant and asleep. And I tell myself I made a choice to never be in The Matrix, a choice that I might question, but never regret.
Valerie Wiiliams is a writer living on Salt Spring Island, Canada.