Manhattanite’s Nightmare

There is a group of people, ominously attired in black, that occupies a certain corner of midtown Manhattan. Like all others, in this magnificent city, I usually walk by with a cursory glance at them. I mentally remark at their anachronistic clothes, the loudspeakers that project their voices, raised in anger across several city blocks, the dire threats and apocalyptic warnings they seem to be issuing and I always ask myself what it is that’s bothering them so much. What do they want to convey? Why do they want us to believe that the world is about to come to an end? This mental process of unvoiced inquiry into their motives and a general sense of wonderment at their passion, their need to communicate a message that is just not getting across, lasts no more than a fraction of a second. Before I know it, I have moved right past them and my mind shifts gears to thinking about other matters that are more pressing, that deserve more than a fraction of a second’s share of my mind.

I am glad I live in a country where a group such as theirs can occupy a busy portion of the street, hook up loudspeakers and speak whatever is on their mind. I am also glad that I am under no obligation to listen. I have the freedom to choose. I can either stop what I am doing and spend several seconds trying to understand why they are issuing dire threats, why they feel the world is going to end tomorrow, why they wake up every morning and set out to spend their time doing this, or I can just walk on by, not miss my bus, get home – to my family – in time or think about how to solve a pressing problem at work that could earn me some kudos, move me up another step on the ladder of success so that the benefits of my success can then trickle down to my family. It is always clear to me what my choices need to be.

But mundane events such as this, to which one is normally desensitized, often have an uncanny way of making appearances in ones worst nightmares. In just such a nightmarish situation I find myself unable to maintain the same equanimity of emotions when, on a particular day, as I am walking by them again, I hear the repeated mention of my name, when the voices raised in anger, echoing across several city blocks, are wrapping all their anger and resentment around my name. My rushing steps slow down. The other passers-by continue to walk on, unmoved, unconcerned with anything that is being said. To them it seems to be a part of the daily spiel that emanates from this motley crew. They do not recognize my name, or the context or any of the reasons for any vague references to me. But I am certainly alarmed. I am even tempted to stop, to respond, to make myself a part of the pathetic spectacle that millions choose to ignore each day.

However, rational, wakeful thoughts dictate that even if this nightmare was to become reality it would still serve me well to keep moving on, unruffled. I would have to force myself, in this horrific scenario, to think along the same lines of logic that keep me sane in this insane world, never losing sight of what is really important. I would have to remind myself that if my behavior has been following the same consistent patterns, if I have not done anything differently from one day to the next then this scenario is just an ordinary and correctable aberration in the normal warp and woof of the fabric of my life. I really would have no reason to stop and examine why my name has suddenly been invoked, my existence, in the grand scheme of things, being as meaningless to the ones invoking my name as their angst-filled, desultory philippic is to me. So even in such a nightmarish scenario, rationality demands that my behavior remain the same, consistent with my principles.

And so this immunity, this desensitization – an inevitable reality of our complicated lives – the brain’s coping mechanism, I believe would emerge, unbidden, whenever one faces disagreeable absurdities. It may leave behind an unsightly manifestation, such as callused fingers from gripping the steering wheel too hard, or bunions and corns that make an appearance as a defense mechanism to ill-fitting shoes, but in the final analysis, this is a small price to pay, nothing a good manicure or a visit to the podiatrist won’t cure.

Whether or not rationality would prevail, in the event such a nightmare became reality, is yet to be determined but if it doesn’t it won’t be for want of trying.

And what of the point that this black-clad, ominous looking, loudspeaker wielding group is making, you ask. Well, if they keep at it perhaps they will find an audience some day or perhaps they will realize that their present audience is immune to their message, in its present form. Perhaps they’ll realize that Manhattanites really see them as just another type of cacophony with which they are forced to contend in the course of their existence here, like the loud jackhammers, the wailing police sirens, the honking taxicabs and so on and so forth. Or perhaps they’ll take the show to an audience outside Manhattan where such desensitization is yet to occur. It’s a big world, there must be an aurally tuned audience somewhere.

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