Have you ever wondered who you are – I mean really wondered? I’m not talking about a vague philosophical pondering … I’m being quite literal.
This happens to me from time to time. Maybe it’s just low blood sugar rather than a real existential crisis. I don’t really know.
It occurred most recently at a very inopportune moment and may have been a result of stress. I was in the Concert Hall at QPAC for an evening of classical music, which most people would find relaxing. I like to sit on the end of a row and feel quite claustrophobic in the centre so when I found myself wedged in the middle I wasn’t happy.
Slowly the punters (that may be the wrong word) filed in. On one side of me sat a world famous medical researcher (a lovely bloke) while on the other was a gracious lady of a certain age.
I struggled to get comfortable and retain a sense of decorum. Then, not long after the music started, I had one of those coughing fits that seem to occur only in a hushed auditorium. As I stifled the hacking I broke into a sweat and then, suddenly, my mind went blank and a general feeling of disassociation ensued. It was at that moment that I wondered who the hell I was. Who was this witnessing the concert? What was it that constitutes me? My consciousness? My personality? My receding hairline? Did I exist outside of me as some sort of ethereal spirit or was I doomed to be eternally myself? Of course while I was experiencing this everyone else just enjoyed the music.
This doesn’t happen often but, as I said, it has happened before. The most memorable occasion was once in my twenties when I was staying with friends in Toowoomba. Maybe it was the altitude? Anyway, I was in a spare room in a dinky single bed and I woke in the middle of the night and could see myself in a mirror on the door of the adjacent cupboard. I looked at myself, alarmed and thought – who the hell is that?
This question can, of course, lead to other questions about God and the nature of universe – questions which really can’t be fully answered except perhaps by Stephen Hawking. But as Woody Allen once said: “Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God it’s hard enough finding your way around Chinatown.”
Humour really is the best response to existential angst, including questions of identity. Whoever the hell we might be, we are stuck with ourselves. My favourite quote on this conundrum comes – not from Lao Tzu or Nietzsche but from The Goons, an episode entitled Dishonoured- Again, in which Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe) has stolen some gold is urged by his nemesis, Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, to surrender.
“Give yourself up Neddie!” Grytpype-Thynne demands, to which Neddie replies: “No, I can’t break myself of that habit.” Deep, huh?
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