By Jason Oberholtzer
I stood on the balcony of a friend’s ninth-floor apartment in Boston last summer and talked about jumping. He had just finished convincing me that The Beatles would have been less successful with John Bonham as their drummer, so in return, I was convincing him that I knew why people put in high places think about the logistics of jumping, or why there exists that moment when, driving windy back roads at night, we are hit with the realization that it is within our power to put our bumper full speed into the nearest tree, or why we do advanced physics and why our legs tense when the train we are waiting for approaches.
“It comes down to power,” I told him. “At this moment, we face a choice. We have the power to effect great change immediately, but at the expense of the future. Let’s look at it as a gamble. There is before me an option to do something with immediate and enormous repercussions. It will impact the world, or at least my corner of it, more than any other action I have available to me at the moment. There will be the outpouring of grief, the hurt, the questions. The impact of my time alive will be clear, as it is defined by the legacy of my death. It is instant access to meaning, right there in front of me. Therefore, all morality of the decision aside, every time I don’t jump, I am choosing to believe that this sudden conclusion is not worth it. I’m betting that the aggregate impact of my life will be greater than the impact of ending it. And this has nothing to do with happiness or sadness or anything that took place before the moment I reached this railing. This is just being aware of your options, even when doing so makes you flinch. And it is more my body, driven by something primitive, that recognizes the options, that recoils even while advancing, drawn as to a Siren to … something. I’m not quite sure what. Okay, now we can pull morality back into it, at least as it pertains to my responsibility to other people. It’s not guilt that makes us think of others in this moment, nor is it some abstract morality. It is a gaze down at our chips. We count all those people we know, who we care about, who we love. We count our intellectual endeavors, the questions we want to answer. We count everything we know to be beautiful, all our aesthetic goals. We count all the mysteries that would end. We do this all in an instant and mash it all together into a sense of self. Here is what we have to wager. We then look to the future and weigh the unknown. We know there will be struggle and pain and sorrow and loss, because ultimately that one certainty in life vibrates through all previous events. We do not know what will happen to us or what our lives will mean in spite of this certainty. The same vivid imagination that is currently running through a checklist of muscles and driving my adrenaline, as I place my hand on this railing, takes our sense of self, then draws either from memories or predictions, from dreams, from art, from that primitive place, and creates for itself a home, right in the pits of our stomachs, where it can iterate. The future is born in our stomachs. Multiple futures. Visceral possibilities. And when this happens, I can’t help it and I fall in love with the future. I have no evidence that the pros will outweigh the cons; I can’t point to anything that suggests I will make an impact that I can intellectually stack up against the power I have at this very moment. But since when did love make sense? Standing up here, or driving those windy roads, or watching an approaching train, we gamble. We feel the power granted us at that moment, and our intellect and our emotions and our instincts all have their say. And the amazing, beautiful, possibly transcendent thing about humanity is that we almost always bet on ourselves.”
— An excerpt taken from “Vertigo,”
an essay found in
I Love Charts: The Book,
available now for pre-order.