By michelle, 30 November, 2023

From my Chasing Dragons | Hiding in Caves Substack.

In the land of Comfort, everything looks normal.  Nothing out of place. Which is what is bothering me.  It’s too familiar, too orchestrated towards perfection.  Tailored specifically to appease me and my tastes.  So that I feel calm.  But I’m not.  I know something’s not right.  I just can’t put my finger on it.  The comfortableness is like a numbing drug.  It removes me from any hint of pain or suffering. 

And numb is how the monster likes it.  So I don’t notice it.  So I forget it is there.  But it has devoured so many of my ancestors, so many of my friends and family, I cannot even comprehend its destructive appetite.   It hides so very well.

I stand on a high place of privilege.  I’ve been born into that space of anonymity: white, middle-class, average intelligence, average accomplishment.  I don’t upset any apple carts.  I’m just intelligent enough to communicate well, but not so clever as to intimidate.  I don’t draw attention to myself, so I make the perfect observer, I think.  Stand me in a corner then walk away – I’ll keep myself occupied.  Disappear me into the crowd so I am nothing.  “Nothing” cannot be hurt.

Somewhere in my lifetime, I’ve adopted the belief that death holds no sting.  I don’t really fear death and that period of unknown.  Mostly because of this belief in a life after death, I rest comfortably in that unknowing.  I’m not afraid of death…I’m afraid of dying.  The process of dying congers up pain, struggle, and suffering.  However, pain and suffering do not sit well with me.  There is something of permanence in them.  Something of loss.  Something of the unknowing, never-ending that requires greater faith for me than death.  I don’t understand this.  But I can see it in my society too.  My ancestors adapted well.  They too disappeared into the crowd so the monster wouldn’t consume them.  We somehow thought we won.  As if mere survival was the end goal.  “I’ve come to bring you Life and Life more Abundantly,” someone once said.  The more I believe that the more clearly I see the monster hiding in the shadows.  The light shines into the darkness and the darkness does not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it.  The monster does not like it.

Opioid crisis.  That’s the headline of the day.  Another death from overdose – trying to numb the pain.  What is it about pain that brings someone to their knees, that cripples a formerly strong individual?  What is it about suffering that drives the sane to madness?  Pain and Suffering, they do the monster’s bidding.  They are its children begging for companionship amongst the children of men. Even of Jesus it is said:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

A woman walks by, flanked on either side by Pain and Suffering.  She’s been walking with them so long that she doesn’t even realize they are there anymore.  They pretend to be helpful, so great is their companionship that they refuse to leave her side day or night.  And others, like myself, quickly look away when she passes, lest her “friends” decide to visit us instead. 

I’ve heard rumors that the monster rarely reveals itself anymore.  Rumors of its approaching perhaps.  But it’s camouflaged these days.  I thought I saw it once, but as soon as I looked directly at it, it disappeared.  All that remained were Pain and Suffering. 

Death rarely visits my community at the bequest of the monster.  It doesn’t need to – Pain and Suffering are sufficient to keep my neighbors in check.  So odd really.  Those who confess life after death rarely test their theory.  It would require dying.  Or at the very least, walking in its shadow.  We’re not very fond of shadows.

The monster moves.  I can’t “see” it move directly.  Just out of the side of my eye.  Like a flutter or light movement, not meant to draw attention.  It wishes not to disrupt comfort.  Lest we notice and call attention to its actions.  Without our focus, it can wield Death and Destruction much more easily.  It prefers to co-opt our interests so that it increases in direct proportion to our happiness.  It’s insidious that way.  Our happiness at the expense of another.  But we don’t talk about that.

I visited the monster’s sanctuary once.  It resides many places, but I think this place is, perhaps, its favorite.  It feels at home here, enshrined amongst the statues and edifices of granite and stone.  Temporary permanence.  There’s a knowing that if it isn’t properly fed, it will simply move on.  And that terrifies its “handlers”.  But who’s fooling whom?  It isn’t a dog walking at leash.  More like the leviathan.  But don’t look directly at it . . . you may be seduced by its power.  It offers it like choice candy, whose addictive qualities are never quite revealed until too late.

The air around it was thick, claustrophobic in its intensity.  For a brief moment, I felt brave.  I never went up to it directly.  I stood amongst a throng yelling at it, lending my voice until we grew too tired, too hoarse to say more.  I was told this coming out of comfort would help.  But I was joined by those still heavily under the influence of Pain and Suffering.  It seems their voices carried farther and their anger became more tangible.  It’s as if Pain and Suffering had sharpened my friends’ edges and intensified their resolve, whereas Comfort had simply weakened my knees and softened my spine.  They were being trained for a marathon . . . I could barely manage a sprint.  They seemed less afraid of the monster because they recognized it.  They saw the monster every day.  I only read about it in books and essays.  I only saw evidence of its existence in the aftermath.  Because no one ever taught me to look right at it.  To call it by name.  To declare, “There’s a monster RIGHT HERE!”  Somewhere in my ancestral past, deep in my very DNA, there is a rooted fear that tells me to not look at it, not call it by name.  Above all, to not draw its attention to me.  It remains camouflaged to me so I can remain hidden to it, in my mind.  Truth is, a predator camouflaged always perceives its prey.  My assimilation merely delays the inevitable.  Eventually no one but me remains to be devoured.  Comfort has made me the weakest one.  Comfort has done the bidding of the monster well.  It joins Pain and Suffering and walks quietly into the night.