My place. Tuesday, 5.20pm
Is that all there is?
PJ Harvey sings.
Is that all there is?
Well, for some people, yes. They live in the world like they belong. They’re comfortable in it. It fits them as snug as a tailored suit and a pair of St Laurent Oxford Lace-ups.
They fight and win, love and lose. They accept the losses, invest the rewards, and think ‘ain’t life grand’. They live in their moment – their families, friends and work reflecting back to them something they assume is them.
They die (surprised), their children mourn them for a moment, and history swallows them up as completely as a python does a rat, leaving only a fading shadow on the long wall of human stories.
If that’s all there is, my friends
Then let’s keep dancing
Once – actually, twice now – I stood at the long wall of bas-relief friezes that encircles the inner parts of the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. This mural, hundreds of metres long, features a crazy choreography of carved action. It tells the stories of blokes and gods from long ago doing what blokes and gods do: fighting and killing and pillaging. It’s like Avengers: Age of Angkor (without Robert Downey Jr, but with Suryavarman II).
I gazed upon the kings and generals, priests and gods, resplendent in victory and defeat, their glorious lives and mass-mourned deaths the stuff of history, their stories passed down through generations to modern us. (Well, to those of us who care about history.)
But my eyes drifted from Vishnu the Victorious and Rama the Rammer to some poor bugger of a foot soldier with a spear through his chest being trampled by an amphetaminised elephant ridden by a maligned prince seeking righteous revenge on a conniving royal household.
As much as history is the story of rampaging princes, I wondered about the speared bloke. He must have a story too. Despite the agony of a speared chest and the giant foot crushing his spine, when that final moment came and he was breathing his last breath did he say, ‘Is that all there is?’
Had he a lover somewhere in the hills? Did she cry when he didn’t return? Did the village remember him for a few years, his name brought up in conversation at the pub until his friends died and his children had children who didn’t care?
Maybe, maybe not. But, sure as hell, nobody gives an elephant’s flank cinch about him now.
Still, he’s lucky to have his life recorded in stone, even if it is just as a doormat for a rambunctious elephant with the wild eyes of an ice addict. Most of us die leaving barely a ripple, which smooths to nothing even before it reaches a shore.
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
Some people are happy with the world. That’s all there is.
Not me. Here’s proof:
It’s an autumn sunset at my shack under the cliffs at the end of the world. A liquid gold that would make even the kings of Angkor stiffen with excitement is poured over the valley.
The nine-carat wink of a pinprick sun sewn into the hem of the western range needles through my organic shiraz creating a colour more magnificent than bronze, more humble than crimson.
Birds sing, wallabies listen, all that sort of stuff… The groundwater is saved (for the moment); the tap water isn’t, but hey, I’m on tank water. The war is over there, the money is over here…
It’s a perfect moment in a beautiful world, right?
If that’s all there is
It doesn’t come any better than this, right?
Then why does it hurt?