It started innocent enough, but it turned dark really fast.
We were standing at the bus stop, just waiting. The “we” was the regular crowd that gathered under the 3rd Ave street sign. Enough of us gathered there every day that we became our own little community. We’d help someone out if they were short a couple cents for bus fare. We’d tell each other time. One time, someone even bought bear claws for us all.
It was a happy place, where a smile would be given for those looking gloomy. But not today.
The skater punk started it all.
“I think that death is underrated.”
What on earth possessed him to share that with us, I will never know. Most of us turned to look at him, while he held his gaze with some far off object.
“Like, a funeral?”
The 30 something nurse pondered aloud. From snippets of conversations, I learned that she had two kids at home, and worked in a senior’s home. I was sure she saw plenty of death.
“Nah, not like that. Funerals are dull and boring. I mean like, Cinco de Mayo, but without the cheering and happiness. Just a day of death and darkness. Really sober and stuff.”
The image of Cinco de Mayo mixed with the bleakness of a funeral hung in the air. No one really knew how to respond, except to look at their watches. The bus was late. Again.
“Is it really about death, or are you wanting a day set aside for society to evaluate and consider the futility of life?”
It was the professor. No one knew what he actually did, but he was always the one trying to elevate the conversation to some kind of theoretical metaphysical plane. It was his tweed suit jacket that earned him the professor title.
“Nah. Well, yeah, kinda. I mean, our society has become so consumer driven and ambitious that we have made businesses out of helping people make businesses. We are totally caught up this whirlwind of money and thinking that this is life.”
I didn’t want to admit it, but Skater Punk had a point.
“We all run around trying to get money or life when it all leads to death anyways. All the money in the world won’t stop you from dying. And pursuing life to the fullest does only so much good because you will still die. There’s no way to even know if you will retain any memories after you die. So what’s the point?”
I looked down the street. Still no bus. And this conversation was starting to sour my day. “You aren’t a very happy person, are you?”
“You aren’t a very happy person, are you?”That was the nurse again, and she looked upset.
That was the nurse again, and she looked upset. “What good would come from doing this? Just talking about it makes me sick inside.”
“It would open their eyes.”
“To what?” snapped the Professor.
“To the reality that life is fleeting. Life is a vapor. Nothing.”
Silence fell on the 3rd Ave bus stop. A few minutes later, the bus pulled up, and we all filed in.
No one said anything more about Skater Punk’s weird idea that day. For the next few days, there was no conversation to be had as we waited for the habitually late bus.
There were times I thought about saying something, anything to lighten the mood. But I couldn’t seem to think of anything that would break through the dark cloud that had been cast over our little community. Life is fleeting. Life is a vapor. Nothing.
Those words seemed to be written on pieces of paper that were stuck in front of everyone’s eyes. They couldn’t escape it. Somehow it was true, and we had been avoiding it all our lives. All Skater Punk had done was bring the truth out of obscurity and into light.
“So what do we do then?”
The professor replied to the question, even though no one was quite sure who had asked it. “What can we do? He was right. Life is fleeting. It starts. It happens. It ends.”
The cloud got a little bit darker and intensely heavy. I turned to look at Skater Punk. He was still standing in his spot in the back of the group. He wasn’t immune to the bleakness of this reality. He looked as upset and depressed as the rest of us.I looked at my watch. The bus was late. I sighed.
I looked at my watch. The bus was late. I sighed.”Do you have an answer?” the nurse asked me.
It took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about an answer. I had been so overwhelmed by the thought. Could there be an answer?
I went to say that I had only sighed because the bus was late, but when I looked at the nurse, I realized I couldn’t. She was heartbroken. You could see it in her eyes. Her whole world had been rocked by the realization that life was a vapor that vanished at moments notice, and that it applied to her and her two kids.
I thought for a minute. Then, clearing my throat, I gave an answer.
“Skater Punk. You were right. We should have a day to realize the futility of our lives. And yes, we should contemplate the limited nature of our lives and reexamine the things that we call priorities. Because money and the idea of a happy life are not guaranteed.”
The nurse’s head slunk down.
With that, every head perked up.
“But, we have to move on from that. We can’t just sit and think about the futility of life. It will kill us. Because, while life is a vapor, it can be a beautiful vapor. It can be a joyful vapor. It can be a vapor that is filled with love and adventure and all kinds of wonderful things. Family. Friends. A job that you enjoy. Life can be a spectacular event. With a start. With a middle. And yes, with an end. It may be a vapor. But you decide what kind of vapor it is going to be.”
“Now I, for one, want to enjoy this vapor. A time of reflection and contemplation about how short my life is fine. Absolutely, I’ll do that. But then I am going to turn around and enjoy every second of that life. And make it everything that I want.”
With that, the cloud parted and the sun shone from every smile at the 3rd Ave bus stop.
I turned from my triumphant speech, and looked into the face of our late arriving bus.