I recently had a close friend pass away unexpectedly (“pass away”—what does that even mean?). The phrase “reality check” is overused, but when used properly, is quite apt. When I think of my friend, sometimes I get a reality check.
For those of us who spend the majority of the day reading, looking at glowing monitors of some kind, or are otherwise dis-tracted by humdrummery, it’s easy to forget how real life is. Not “real life” as opposed to fiction (that, too), but the quality of realness that life has—what Longfellow must have had in mind.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
When the realness of life is experienced—however briefly—sensations seem to have more authenticity. A cold breeze hits you directly, not just your skin. The notes struck by piano keys sound more crisp, as if they were written into—and to be played out of—the fabric of reality. Color seems highly saturated. You notice things that you normally don’t, like the fact that you’re breathing or blinking.
Everything feels sharper, as if a protective layer is temporarily peeled back. And, ironically, in the reality check, “things are not what they seem;” things seem stranger, presenting themselves in a way that is profoundly mysterious—as “I know not whats”. I feel the metal of a cold metal surface, for instance; or the pebble rather than the pebble’s smootheness. I’m no bookstore clerk who’s a wannabe existentialist (is there anything more pathetic?—I’ll avoid looking in the mirror), but I deeply admire Nausea for the skill with which Sartre describes the raw texture of experience. Here’s a gem:
A little while ago, just as I was coming into my room, I stopped short because I felt in my hand a cold object which held my attention through a sort of personality. I opened my hand, looked: I was simply holding the door-knob.
I know what he’s talking about. But reality checks are transient. So if you can, grab a good cigar before you get checked back into unreality. We have phone calls to make, emails to write, trains, planes and automobiles to catch, and a hellevah lot of small talk to endure. We really do live with scales on our eyes.
But it’s all just wet, pinkish-gray matter, right?