This Jack Nicholson line has been hiccupping across my brain quite a bit over the last couple weeks. I almost want to watch the movie over again, just so I can see him as he says it. I love the way it’s delivered – the way he’s in the act of doing something that appears to have him fully occupied, and out of the blue, that terrible thought strikes him like lightning in a flash storm – “What if this is as good as it gets?”
How heart-wrenching is this question? It’s like old Jack knows the answer, even as he asks himself (or is it you?) the question. Lurking deep below, creeping through the quagmire of his innards, is a sad and angry piece of Jack’s heart, saying, “Take away the question mark, Jack. You know it, and I know it – this is as good as it gets!”
But that was never the question in the first place, was it? The question was “What if?” It’s a hypothetical. I like that. It takes away some of the edge of the words, like it doesn’t matter for the sake of this question, whether life does or does not improve – whether WE do or do not improve – what matters isif so, what am I going to do with that? Can I live with myself if I don’t ever get any better? Oh, such a big question! That’s a question that brings tears to my eyes in about half a second.
It seems that humans are forever driven to reach for something. It appears the only way around this compulsion is to anesthetize ourselves with chemicals or consumerism (but consumption releases chemicals in our brains, so apparently it always comes back to chemicals.) As a whole, though, we are driven people. We are a people who reach. I know I do, and that’s why this “What if?” question cuts me so. What if the reaching is all a waste? “What if this is as good as it gets?”
I suffer from a recurring dream that creeps upon me once every month or so. I say it’s one I suffer, because in this dream, I see myself at the end of my capacities. In my dream, I have gone back to college, and I’m doing well, getting good grades, for the most part. But there is one class. There’s one class that I keep forgetting to show up for. In my dream, which seems to cover the timespan of a full semester – I suppose that can happen in dreams; maybe the gravitational pull of the hyper-reality we experience as we sleep has a timewarp effect – throughout those several dream-months, despite my inability to remember even once to attend this one class, I keep telling myself, “It’s ok. I can do this. I’m a kick-ass test taker. I’ll show up to the final and ace that thing, and I’ll be just fine.”
The dream always ends the same. It ends with me, walking into that classroom at semester’s end with a sense of impending doom. I have no shot at passing this exam. None. If I had more control over my actions in my dreams, I would walk into that room and say, “What if this is as good as it gets? What if, after all my reaching, this is how it ends? Me, flunking a test I have no business taking.”
In the waking world, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. I’m still going to reach. You will too. It’s what we do. Perhaps it’s just a matter of focus. Maybe that dream is telling me something; maybe it’s telling me that I am subconciously forgetting that class on purpose. Maybe it should be forgotten; maybe that ball should be dropped. I worry a lot about dropping balls. It could be that my subconcious is telling me to focus more on the balls that look good to me, and the others – just let the damn things hit the floor.