As far as we can discern, the sole purpose
of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
Carl Gustav Jung *
Lana studied journalism in Germany and England. When she returned to Slovenia, she started working for the TV. In a few years she became fed up with the TV intrigues and went free-lance. She occasionally contributed to various magazines and newspapers, and wrote a few books.
I only met her once, very briefly. It was at a concert; we were introduced during the break by mutual acquaintances.
Many years later I saw her in the London Tube. I hesitated: I didn't know whether to approach her or not. When we first met, I was a teenager, quite a bit younger than her. I must have changed since, she might not even remember me.
To my surprise she did remember, and sat next to me.
She told me she was in London alone. That she fell in love with the city at first sight when she first came here as an eighteen-year-old. Ever since, so she said, she had to come here at least once a year or else became sick.
I was in London on business and was running late for a meeting, so we agreed to meet again the following day in Hyde Park.
It was sunny, not a usual sight in London, we were sitting on a bench by the pond, and I asked her what she did when she was in London privately.
»I go to the cinema,« she said. »At least once a day. I also go to the bookshop in Oxford Street, and the ones in Shaftsbury Avenue and in Piccadilly. Each takes me at least half a day. Twice or three times I go to the theatre, then perhaps to see the flowers in Regent's Park and a few other things, and the week is over.«
I've been to most major European cities, but never privately. I didn't feel like going to bookshops, cinemas, theatres, let alone greenhouses or even museums. A total loss of time if you ask me. As far as I'm concerned, things have to have a deeper meaning. Practical. Realistic. – I have to make money doing them.
When many years ago Lana was still working for the TV, I often wondered what she was doing there. It seemed to me that she was too smart for the TV, that she didn't really belong there. I asked her about it.
»Well,« she said, »for a while it was quite all right. There was so much to learn that I didn't really have time to notice the things that might bother me. And I was so young and naive – it was right after my post-graduate studies – at that time I still believed that the world needed to be changed and that my role in this was crucial,« she said, and laughed as if patronising herself.
Did I ever try to change the world? – I'd probably do it if I could make some money in the process. But since it never happened so far, the world and I just went our separate ways. However, while talking to Lana I had the feeling that she was constantly questioning things, evaluating the world, doubting. How damn tiring. And why? What's the point?
»And then you left the TV?«
»Yes, after four years. It was enough. I guess I finally grew up,« she said.
As late as that! I thought. I grew up when I was eighteen. It was then I started to make money. Became independent. Of course I was also studying, it was the necessary evil. And then, after I graduated, I got a regular job. Just like everybody else. – Wife? I met her when I was a freshman, marriage was a logical consequence. – Children? Are there people who don't want to have them before they actually have them? I once heard of a woman who had herself sterilised as soon as it was legally possible. She didn't want to bring babies into this world, she said. She couldn't have looked them in the eye without feeling guilty for having brought them to this loony-bin, she said. What madness, I thought then.
My first child was born when I was twenty-four, the second when I was twenty-eight. It worked out as it should: first a son, then a daughter. And so that business was over, too. But in Lana's eyes I could see that for her nothing of importance was ever over. How trying! – And in her eyes I also noticed a different glitter the meaning of which I didn't understand; I had the same feeling when I was watching her on TV. As if she knew some important secret.
»It seems to me you think a lot, Lana,« I said, and my tone of voice was a mixture of slight arrogance and reserved admiration, which was actually just badly concealed envy: I envied her because she had something that I didn't. – »How do you put up with this constant strain?«
»People are different, Jacob,« she said. »We all carry our cross and put up with it as best we can.«
I'd been listening to stories about crosses and destinies and similar nonsense since childhood, and they always made me want to throw up. What damn crosses! Don't give me this crap about fate and suffering and this idiotic instant Christianity! Food for losers. I never wanted to think about things that would lead me to such cross-roads. But there was something else in her voice, something different from the prophesies uttered by the suffering messengers of fate; a kind of knowledge that transcended the boundaries I was familiar with. What is the meaning of Lana's world? My world is concrete: children, a car, a house, a job. What use would it be if I understood things the way she obviously understands them? Damn losers and dreamers, I thought again, and that conclusion was the peak of my reasoning. But a kind of masochistic interest in her world, which was in stark contrast to everything I really believed in, wouldn't leave me alone despite my mental tantrums and a definite awareness of how impractical it was.
»It seems to me,« I said »that it's quite difficult being you.«
»Yes, I think so, too,« she nodded. »But – I can't be anybody else but me.«
»What's the point of all this thinking, Lana? Don't you think it makes you kind of... alienated from everything that's really happening? Alone? Lonely? As if a part of you weren't really alive?«
»Yes, actually, everything you said is true,« she agreed and watched the members of a big coloured family – they were having a kind of Sunday picnic – that seemed as if they didn't have a worry in the world. »But, as I said before, people are very different.«
»What's the meaning of life for you?«
She turned to me and silently watched me for a long time. Her look became more down-to-earth, although the distance, the width that I couldn't really understand, was still present in her eyes.
»In a way your naiveté is quite charming,« she finally said. »But once it's gone, Jacob – once it's really gone for ever, it's simply no longer there; I just don't have it any more, do you understand me? Every single moment I know – and this might seem pretty daft to you who know that the only sensible things are those that are of use to you – what is going on, and when I hear those perverted stories about how one should be happy, find meaning and similar bullshit – have you ever wondered who those who proclaim it most loudly are and why they do it, whose interests are in the background of those slogans – it all sounds so cheap to me, insulting even, understand? Listening to a bunch of crooked, vampire-like men and women luring me into their world of slogans and sorry lies – half of the people on this planet almost literally live in shit, Jacob – and we, with our happiness and meaning and acquired indifference, are taking part in marketing their misery – this is damn bullshit, Jacob, do you understand me? Nothing else. And all this shit makes a living for all those deciding about who will exist tomorrow, and where and in what circumstances – because you and the likes of you believe in this meaning of yours!«
Now I finally understood where that look came from. My God, her life must be so damn hard.
»How can you keep living, Lana?« I asked.
It looked like the question surprised her. Not because of what I said, but because I said it.
»I don't know,« she said. » I really don't know. I often wonder myself.«
Then we were quiet for a while. Ducks were waddling by the water, the Brits were lounging in their long chairs, children were playing on the grass and the Sunday was still sunny and pleasant.
»This British peace is so... madly relaxing,« Lana said after a while.
And once more her sentence led me off into an unknown territory. Christ, what an asshole I am, I thought. I didn't see anything madly relaxing in Hyde Park. For me the Brits were weird, and that was it. Any other line of thinking was for losers, or so I always believed. Thinking without any use, discussions about feelings that led nowhere – totally useless. Definitely for losers. That wasn't me, I never wanted to be like that. And that made me – what? A member of the race of meaning seekers? Of the kind Lana was talking about earlier? I didn't really want to think about it. Who cares if half of the world population can't shit in toilets, don't have drinking water and I don't know what? What's that to me? I'm not the saviour of the world, I didn't design the world, for me the world is something quite abstract, and the only real things are me, my wife, my two kids, my house, my car and – that's it. Every man for himself, period. The rest is none of my concern. I'm not interested in under-nourished blacks in Africa, I'm not interested in genetically modified pigs, I'm not interested in genetically modified corn, I'm not interested in genetically nervous peasants, I'm not interested in genetically unmodified politicians, I'm not interested in anything except...
»Are you still with that guy... what's his name... Bojan?« I asked in order to put a stop to the line of thinking that made me quite nervous.
»Yes, I am, actually.«
»You don't have children, do you?« I continued, and there was a trace of reproach in my voice – yes, I considered her less worthy because she didn't have children. And I was ashamed; not because I considered her less worthy, but because she felt it. On top of it all I had a feeling that she didn't hold it against me, but thought of me as one of those believers in children, as she called them – one of those limited hypnotised freaks she compared to Hitler's boys and girls and men and women and grandfathers and grandmothers and uncles and aunts and he- and she officials, who were marching around the world wearing brown trousers and brown shirts, and so firmly believed in their meaning that they called it Sense with a capital S; and then they fell so in love with it that they added another capital S. And then, in the name of the redeeming SS-ense, they could do anything their sorry SS-enses desired.
It seemed to me I was starting to understand Lana's perception of the world; it was penetrating deeper and deeper into me, and was squeezing me at the same time. But I don't want it! I don't want to have a guilty conscience, I don't want to ponder about the things I have no influence on! Why would I trade my meaning for hers? What sense would it make? My meaning functions damn well! I don't have a guilty conscience, I sleep well, I'm damn happy with my life and I never feel uneasiness in my stomach.
»No, we don't have children,« Lana said.
»Was it a conscious decision or...?«
»Yes, a conscious decision. There's nothing physically wrong with either or us, if that's what you meant.«
»They say that women who don't have children become...weird when they grow older.«
»I don't know what to say to this, Jacob. By conventional standards I'm weird already – not that I really care. I would be more concerned if I were normal – by conventional standards, of course!«
»What do you and Bojan talk about when you're alone?«
»Actually, we're hardly ever alone. Bojan is much happier with this world than I am. Not in the way you are, but happy enough not to be able to do without it. He's been working for an advertising agency for a while now; that's his real life. Being with me has become a kind of habit. We've been together for so long that he takes it almost for granted.«
»I may be taking him for granted, too... What do we talk about? I don't like talking about what's going on at his job, those things are very predictable and boring. We talk about books, films and the like. Although it seems to me, as I said before, that in his heart of hearts Bojan's at work all the time; I don't get much pleasure out of his comments anyway, they're simply too superficial. We're more like a brother and sister, we've grown used to living next to each other, which means we're quite careful not to get on each other's nerves too much. In short, that's probably what our relationship is all about.«
»And then you can't do anything else but search for possible answers within yourself – and be by yourself.«
»Yes, I guess so.«
»Aren't you bored?«
»Of course I'm often bored.«
»If you have children, you're never bored.«
»You mean it pays to have children so that you're never bored?«
Her pays sounded so unlike mine that I couldn't say yes. In fact, I felt this wasn't worth any words. One simply had to have children, period. I said nothing.
»What's wrong with being bored?« Lana asked.
What's wrong with being bored, I repeated in my mind. Once more she was leading me off to the terrain I wasn't familiar with. Not my cup of tea.
»Our society is so full of contempt for certain human states and emotions, like sadness, for instance,« she said. »As if it was something bad, something unseemly for a modern, happy consumer. Have you ever thought about where these emotions actually come from, what they are trying to convey to us, why we experience them at all? We're doing ourselves no favour if we don't let ourselves have them, if we never ask ourselves why they bother us and what in us triggered them. What we're left with is just a lump of twitching bio-chemistry, part of that instant SSense we talked about earlier. A herd of laughing, smiling, made-up holes, carefully building up our giggling happiness on the unhappiness of millions miserable people? Is this true happiness or should we find another name for it, what do you say, Jacob?«
»What do you really believe in, Lana? Don't tell me you can live without believing in anything.«
»What do I believe in? – You're right. I constantly wonder about the meaning of my life. But the answers you're so happy with stopped meaning anything to me a long time ago.«
»And what do you do then?«
»I go to London for a week, for instance; write stories, and when there are enough of them, publish a book.«
»What, then, makes you so very different from me?«
»I don't think I'm so very different, Jacob. I think that all the people on this planet are actually quite similar to each other. Regardless of what we do, what we feel and what we think about.«
»Do you ever think of suicide?«
»I often think of death, yes,« she said. »About people I once knew, who were as close to me as a human being can be close to another human being, and who are gone now; and about people I didn't really know very well, and are also gone; this is something I find very hard to understand, to accept. – Yes, I often think about these things.«
»What's the point of all this, Lana?« I asked, although it was clear I was talking nonsense. »My questions are so very predictable, too, right? I keep repeating what I think is appropriate to say, what I think other people would say, without really thinking about whether I'm interested in them or not. In fact I'm still a child. I swallow the pills other people shove into my mouth, and then offer them to others and praise their healing effects.«
»Adulthood, yes...,« Lana said. »To be an adult means to be so damn alone – at least in our world.«
I looked at my watch. We arrived two and a half hours ago. The time passed so quickly. The sky had clouded over and looked more London-like. The black family started packing their food, folding blankets and calling the children who were still running after the ball and laughing loudly.
»How much longer are you staying in London?« I asked.
»Till Wednesday. You?«
»I have a flight tonight. Quarter past eight from Heathrow.«
We stood up.
»Where are you staying?« she asked.
»In Russell Street – Great Russell Street, in fact, quite near Tottenham Court Road.«
»I'm going to Leicester Square,« Lana said. »We can go together as far as Oxford Circus.«
We went to Marble Arch and waited for a train.
»So, what do you think, Lana, is there any hope for the human race?« I asked her when we stared at the silent rails together, and it seemed to me it was the first question today actually asked by me.
Lana looked at me, and there was something unusually kind and gentle in her eyes; and her kindness touched my soul – the organ I usually didn't pay much attention to and considered no more important for every-day life than the appendix. As far as I was concerned the best thing would be if I had it surgically removed before it started giving me trouble.
»I don't know,« she said and touched me where my heart was supposed to be underneath the clothes. »I really don't know, Jacob,« she repeated, and then the train arrived and we got on.
Lana got off at Oxford Circus. I leaped after her at the last moment.
»A short walk probably won't hurt me,« I said. »And I'm in no hurry anyway.«
She said she'd go and see what was on in the theatre in Piccadilly. And then to Leicester Square, where she could get theatre tickets at half price.
»Will I see you again?« I asked, when we came out of the Tube.
»Perhaps, Jacob,« she said and once more touched me where she'd touched me before. And again I became aware of that part of me I hardly ever use. Was that good or bad? I wasn't so sure about it any more.
For a while I watched her disappear behind the curve in Regent 's Street, and then set off in my own direction.
* Soweit wir zu erkennen vermögen, ist es der einzige Sinn der menschlichen Existenz, ein Licht anzuzünden in der Finsternis des blossen Seins. Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), Erinnerungen, Träume, Gedanken (1962), ch. 11
Translated from Slovenian Lili Potpara