Life never ceases in taking my breath away. It’s such a cliche, but it’s true nonetheless. Just when I have a moment of clarity, see a pattern of cohesion, or feel as if I have just received some kind of “answer” to one of life’s infinite riddles, a moment of chaos will often soon follow after. Does this serve as a reminder that the world is a cruel place? Or perhaps to serve as a way to further appreciate the beautiful and the pure? I don’t know.
Last year my boyfriend and I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna in San Francisco. I had not seen the troupe perform since I was a child, probably around the age of ten, but images of that experience had remained imprinted on my mind. I hoped that the awe I had felt in my youth would still exist as an adult.
I, like most little girls, wanted to run away and join the circus even before I had seen Cirque du Soleil. Whereas the Ringling & Bros. type of circus involved caged animals and ballerinas riding bareback, Cirque du Soleil had people costumed as animals, eerie music, and decidedly adult storytelling. I was hypnotized. Even at a young age I knew that a caged tiger is much different than a wild tiger. But a woman dressed as a tiger, prowling the stage amid fire dancers? Now that was a different kind of circus.
Images of the past production flashed by with the scenery outside the car window as we drove to San Francisco. As the Golden Gate Bridge came into view I was struck, as I always am, at the sheer impressiveness of such a structure, especially in juxtaposition to the nature that surrounds it. We rather inconsequential human beings (in relation to the universe) used to not be able to cross that stretch of water, yet we did not let that deter us. I do not think I will ever stop being awed by the creativity we as a species exhibit.
Still feeling that sense of wonder, we arrived at AT&T Park, parked the car, purchased outrageously priced snacks, and found our way to our seats inside the blue-and-yellow striped tents. The lights dimmed and peacock-painted women shimmied through the aisles, tickling the audience with feathers, false eyelashes sparkling with rhinestones as the music began.
A dancer undulated around the stage, suddenly somersaulting into a giant bowl of water with barely a splash. She surfaced, slithering out of the bowl and hooking her hands on the edge to push herself up effortlessly into a handstand. My boyfriend and I joined the audience in cheering, applauding furiously. Here we were, sitting in a tent erected in the middle of San Francisco, watching performers that had dedicated their entire lives to feats that defied the idea of a mundane human existence.
After the show, exiting the dark tents to the bright light of midday, we squinted against the sun as we made our way back to the car. The show had been exhilarating, creative, suspenseful. I realized that entertainment can give meaning to what can be seen as our seemingly senseless time on earth. The circus speaks to the child that still resides within each of us, the child that maintains a sense of wonder amidst the inexplicable, often cruel beauty of the world. To create is to live.
In the car on our way home, we hit a bit of unexpected traffic as we neared the Golden Gate Bridge. Reaching the bridge, inching along, we craned our necks, attempting to see what was going on. Was it a car accident? A flat tire? We couldn’t see anything. The congestion continued for quite some time, until at last we were able to see numerous police cars, lights blinking rapidly, pulled over to the right, blocking the lane we were in.
I noticed numerous people rubbernecking, and as my boyfriend flicked on the left blinker to enter the middle lane I finally saw what everyone was looking at, the cause for the police, the reason for the frenzy that was mounting among the officers on the walking path of the bridge. There was a figure, faced away from the police and the crush of cars, wearing a puffy black jacket, greasy hair whipping around the collar. The figure was hunched, crouched on top of an electrical box, the box right beside the bridge’s railing. It took me a moment to register what I was seeing. What I was seeing was a man who wanted to jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of the day on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The cries of the police officers seemed to fall on deaf ears, to be carried away with the wind, because not once did I see the man acknowledge their voices or speak in return.
The pleasure that had saturated my being during Amaluna began to ebb away. I had just witnessed the epitome of feeling alive, of human beings expressing themselves through their bodies, of being creative, of visually telling a story. I had just been marveling at the commitment and training it takes to appear so effortlessly graceful, bursting with passion and purpose. Instead of feeling inadequate in the face of this drive and beauty, of wishing my mother had put me in dance classes when I was young, I had felt inspired. I am not a dancer, but I am creative in other ways. I had come to the conclusion that as long as we follow our truth and passion, then that is the joy of living.
Then, amidst the honking cars on the bridge, leaving one of the most vibrant cities in the world, I was within fifty yards of a man who wanted to leap. This man did not see what I had just seen, did not feel the pleasure and the joy, the creativity. Or perhaps he did. Perhaps he did feel it and it was all too much. Living, breathing, and loving amidst the turmoil of poverty, war, and depravity.
That’s what I meant, when I said this world shows me these moments of beauty and buoys the optimism that I try to maintain, and then it’s all nothing. There’s meaning and rhyme, but then in the same second the music has lost its melody and none of it makes any sense. It makes me think of a caged tiger, the incarnation of strength and beauty, captured in a steel box, enacting tricks exacted by a leather whip and hours of training by a human. A human that would be devoured by a tiger in the wild.
It was such a stark, breathless moment, to go from witnessing human beings with such dedication to their art and their obvious love of performing to witnessing someone at the precipice of death by his own hand. I caught the profile of the man on the precipice, caught the pale dejection of his jaw, but could not see the intensity in his eye. We continued driving, because that is all we could do.
I suppose I could have tried to look online or in the paper the next day, to see if the man had jumped, but I felt that that would’ve been wrong somehow. I guess I’ll never know if someone talked him down or if he went through with it. I still wonder, over a year later.
What I have decided now, over a year later, is that I can choose to look at life as a hostile, sad place, where people feel that they have no other choice than to jump from a bridge. Or, I can view life as a place where people devote their lives to creating art, to making meaning. We can hate life for the pain it brings, or we can say, in spite of it all, or perhaps even because of it all, because it is all living, I still love you. Like the writing I saw on a dirty sidewalk one night leaving a bar before I quit drinking. The bright silver paint was a stark contrast to the filthy concrete, and it made me pause, take a picture. How I feel about life is like that shimmering writing on a dark street. I still love you.
I wish you a wild, free life.