Ben Cajee, The Independent
I bought a new pair of sunglasses last May. They’re sat in their little pouch in my bedside table and have never been worn. It’s not even like they were expensive.
Whenever it’s sunny up here in Manchester, which let’s be honest, isn’t very often, I whip out the old ones, bought in the sale in a small American mall. You know the kind. The metal has got wet too many times, so there’s that weird green rust on the frames, the arms fall in on themselves and there’s now an extra bend around the nose piece so they’re not even symmetrical on my face.
I’m telling you all this in painstaking detail because for reasons unknown, I’ve decided that the new ones are for special occasions. You know how you’ve got a pair of “best” jeans that you haven’t needed to wear for two years because we’ve all lived in joggers? Yeah, like that. Only here’s the thing – I don’t really know what I’m waiting for.
I’ve hit that magical age of 35, so maybe it’s some kind of mid-life crisis, just without the Aston Martin, because I can’t afford one. There are women I could have gone out with who are now engaged or happily married, and either pregnant or with young children. I’m just knocking about, trying to work out what to do with my life and seemingly waiting for some kind of divine intervention.
Over the last five years, I’ve thought about mortality — both my own and relating to the people that I love — more than I probably should have. Am I a good person? Could I do better? What’ll be my legacy? What will I do without my mum?
Is marrying Jennifer Aniston merely a pipe dream? All of those big existential questions have obviously been accelerated somewhat by a global pandemic and now a heinous war in Europe that I can’t really begin to comprehend.
More than 2.5 million people have fled their homes in Ukraine, described by the UN as the fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Second World War, and yet here I am, writing about my sunglasses. I understand the absurdity of that.
The outrageous insignificance of everything right now isn’t lost on me. In fact, more than ever, I’m realising that our time here is short. Yet, there’s also a sense of the most important things in life being lost. We stress. We work. We worry. We sweat the small stuff. We overcomplicate. We seek instant gratification. We compare ourselves. We value the wrong things.
There’s poverty, hunger, illness, death, social injustice, and environmental annihilation. Life is brutal and horrific. It’s magical and beautiful. It’s that stark contrast and dichotomy all the time — and everything at the moment feels like it can’t possibly be happening. Soon we’re all going to wake up and realise that this was all some kind of dystopian nightmare of epic, biblical proportions.
It turns out that politicians can be trusted; corruption doesn’t run deep into every crack of society; money isn’t dirty; kindness, peace and humanity are valued above money and power. I know, I know. Just like the bit about Jennifer Aniston, I’m delusional. I’m also more emotional than ever before. Yes, even more than in my university emo days. I was listening to West Ham on the radio last weekend when Andriy Yarmolenko, the Ukrainian international, came off the bench to score a pearler and put the Hammers 1-0 up against Aston Villa.
I had a little moment of celebration, a mini fist-pump and then (not unlike him), realised the significance of that moment, was overcome with emotion and cried proper tears. Horror and beauty — again.
Biffy Clyro once sang that “Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies”. Simon Neil sings, “I pray to God that you’re right before my eyes/ Bathed in white light, with halos in your eyes” — and I reckon those Scottish rockers were on to something. There’s a fine line between normality and tragedy. The distinction between black and white is blurred and it all turns to grey. What’s this all about? Why do bad things happen and how can those so deeply affected carry on? They have to. Life doesn’t slow down; it just rattles on undeterred. Unmoved.
Life is precious. It’s overwhelming and uncertain. It’s not assured. It’s here and then it’s not. So, when I’m fortunate enough to pack my things at the end of the month and take my first holiday for more than two and a half years, guess what’s going in the bag first? Yep. Those new sunglasses.
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