THE RIGHT OF LIFE
I am here. I am alive. I am well. And yet I feel sadness in my chest, a mute poignant ache. It is not a feeling of culpability. No! I have never understood why one should feel guilty for having survived. Besides, I did not really survive. I am not sure I am a true survivor. True, I confronted death, went through it, left it behind me, but it was just an experience of my life, like all the other experiences I've had. Jumping out of airplanes. Falling in love. And so on. There is a word for this kind of experience in some languages. In German one says Erlebnis. In Spanish, Vivencia. In English, simply Experience. But in French there is no single word to seize life itself all at once as an experience. One must say, j'ai eu une expérience, j'ai fait une expérience. How vague. My survival, if it was a survival, took place in France, in the French language, but I can assure you it was not a vague experience. And yet to describe that survival I must rely on a periphrasis, or else use the word survécu, j'ai survécu, which is very approximate, and questionable. An insipid flabby word. Le survécu is such a passive expression. But the experience of life, the experience one has of living, that's active, and of course always in the present. Life nourishes itself of the past to project itself into the future.
Whatever the case, it is not culpability I feel, as I watch the restless crowd before me demonstrating for the right of life.
The right of life? Who says we have a right to live. The naked anguish of being alive precedes the culpability of surviving.
The anguish of being born out of nothingness results from an irremediable stroke of luck. One does not have to have known the death camps to know the anguish of living.
I am alive. I am standing at the corner of Main Street & Broadway in America. The sadness I feel does not come from a feeling of culpability. Surely there is no merit in having survived. I am unscarred, unscathed, at least in appearance. The living are no different than the dead when it comes to merit. None of us deserves to be alive. Nor to die either. I would feel guilty if I thought that others deserved more than me to have survived. But survival is not a question of merit. It is a question of good luck, or bad luck, depending how one looks at it. To be alive depends on how the dice fall. Nothing else. That's what the word chance means. The dice fell in the right combination for me, that's all.
Suddenly, just as the demonstrators start moving down Main Street, the sky becomes dark. A snow squall shrouds the crowd, brief but violent. The people before me disappear in a white whirlpool. The buildings, the crowd, the city, the signs, the sound of the voices, winter, everything is erased. I understand now the physical sadness I feel, in spite of the misleading sensation of being alive, of being here at the corner of Main Street & Broadway, on this particular day. It is precisely the fact that I am not sure of being here, of being alive, that makes me sad. A kind of vertigo suddenly carries me into the memory of another snow. Snow and smoke. A serene vertigo, lucid like a laceration. I feel as if I am floating in the future of this memory. There will always be this memory, this solitude, this snow squall in the midst of sunshine, this smoke in all the seasons.