The doctor fixed his eyes on him, scrutinizing his guest’s every move. “Burke,” he said, shaking his head. “Burke, listen carefully to me now.”
“I have been listening to you the entire time, Doctor. And I am starting to understand.” He stretched out his arm and examined the warm red fluid pumping out of his veins. The pain reflected in his features slowly changed into a superior smile. “This,” he repeated, “is my design. This is my pain, and I am turning it into my pleasure. The cut through my skin: a sharp sting. The open wound: a hot burn. The blood streaming out of my veins: a sensation of pure life pumping through me. I enjoy every bit of it, Norton. Every bit of it. And I thank you for it, Norton, I really do. I feel I have achieved so much already. Had you told me at the beginning of this evening when I first set foot through your door that I would be standing here enjoying to cut my arms open, I would have turned around, left immediately and declared you a mad man. Now, however, I feel I understand. Pain is part of life! We cannot fight it, we cannot prevent it, we cannot hide from it. Instead we should embrace it and used it to our own good – no, turn it into something good! And it appears we can! Within a few hours you have been able to convince me that pain is nothing to be frightened of, but something that can cause us pleasure. And now look at me, my friend, look at me!” He raised his arms and displayed his gashing wound in a blaze of glory. “This,” he laughed, “this, Norton, this is life! This is beauty! This is art! How could I ever think that something hot, something crimson like this is anything but pure energy! It’s empowering!”
“No, Burke, no!” the doctor interrupted. “You are just picking up bits and pieces of what I am trying to explain and start reconnecting them whichever way you like. But it does not work this way, Burke, it is not that simple! You do not get to choose when and where and to which extent pain is going to strike you! The most painful aspect of pain is its unpredictability. We cannot prepare ourselves in advance; we cannot take protective measures so it will not hit us in the most vulnerable spots. When it strikes, it strikes, and we have to take it whichever way it blows. If you cut yourself, Burke, you are in the advantage of knowing exactly when, where and how it is going to hurt. You can mentally prepare yourself. That is a huge plus. But unfortunately this is not how pain works. Pain does not knock on your door and asks permission to enter – it breaks in through your window, if you are unlucky enough the moment you are undressed and sitting naked on the toilet, completely exposed and no shield to guard you.”
“But that is exactly the point I am trying to make here, dear Norton. I am taking control of my own pain. You are right with what you said about lashing out. I truly apologise for that. I thought I was taking control, but instead I seemed to have lost it. And yes, I do agree that we have a moral obligation towards others which forbids us to intentionally bring suffering upon anyone else but ourselves. But here it goes, Norton: If pain is an inevitable part of life then I prefer to choose when, where and how I am going to face it. It might be morally wrong to hurt others, but as far as I am concerned it is not evidence of base moral standards to inflict pain upon oneself, would you not agree?”
“I do understand the point you are making,” the older man replied. “But tell me, Burke, will you just be walking around all day cutting your arms to ensure you are enduring a sort of pain that is manageable for you? To me that sounds unbearably dull. Also, the fact that you are inflicting pain on yourself does not prevent others from causing you pain as well. Hurting yourself only adds another source of suffering. Excuse me for being so frank, dear Burke, but you clearly did not think this trough. If you were to insist on your approach, then you would have to go one step further, and that would mean suicide. I assume you can guess my attitude towards that,” he smirked. “Of course we could all just end our lives now. Bang, whoops, finito and adios – just like that. We could cut our wrists and enjoy the feeling of life slowly leaving our dysfunctional bodies; enjoy the few minutes we have of superiority, the fact that no one and nothing can touch us now. It feels to us as if we are slapping the world in the face, saying ‘you cannot hurt me!’ But for what, Burke, for what? We are taking ourselves much too seriously. We are all so self-important to think that this last act of taking control has any influence on anything. But the truth is, Burke, it does not matter at all. Frankly, the world does not give a rat’s ass about whether we exist or not, whether we live or die in agony, whether we are happy or inconsolably miserable. We are the only ones to whom it matters. And what exactly would you gain if you killed yourself now, my friend? A few minutes of pride? A few moments of invincibility? And that is only if you are lucky. Most people are haunted by regret the last moments before they kick it. And that would be a real bummer now, wouldn’t it? But most of all, my dear friend: death is rather tedious. Are we not on this planet to enjoy ourselves, to indulge, to laugh, to love, to have pleasure? Now tell me, how much pleasure could you possibly have, stuffed into a black box hidden under the ground? Secondly: I am trying to make this world a little better, not to erase it from humanity altogether. Even though it is, of course, debatable if this world would not, in fact, be a better place without the human race. But that is a discussion I feel we should not get into at this point. And now, my friend, I think we need to cool our heads.” He filled their glasses with fresh ice and water.
The young man reluctantly accepted the glass. He stared at the clear, cold fluid that turned the tips of his fingers slightly numb. He took a mouthful; the icy water made him somewhat dizzy. His head hurt, and he needed to sit down. He stared blankly across the room, where the doctor’s blood had left a few stains on the wall. “Then what exactly, my dear friend, do you suggest now?” he said with resignation.
“Right now I suggest we take a breath, and remember the rules.”
…to be contonued…
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