III. Facing the Lion

“Is this the train to Ghent Central Station?” A man wearing a dark blue sweat suit and a heavy golden chain addressed her. Behind his strong accent she detected tiredness and worries. “Yes, that’s the one,” she nodded quickly and gave him an encouraging smile, after which he hurried into the carriage. Vanessa stayed on the platform, and turned towards the information sign at the other track. Another two minutes, plus five minutes of delay. She wondered whether she should have told the man to get off in Gent-Sint-Pieters. Of course there was no “Central Station” in Ghent, so travellers got sometimes confused. She suddenly felt responsible for him and hoped he wouldn’t be in trouble because of her inertia to give the right instructions. But it definitely was the right train.

“Speaking of inertia,” she mumbled while she saw the enormous vehicle on the opposing track slowing down. It always scared her a little to imagine the effort it took to stop such a monster once it was cutting the landscape at its top speed. She thought of Newton’s laws and how elegant they were, and of scientists’ stubborn attempts to summarise the world into nothing more than a series of natural laws, the fewer the better. Of course, they deserved nothing but our greatest respect for dedicating their lives for humanity et cetera, but for some reason she felt a bit sorry for them. Would they have been so passionate about developing their models if they hadn’t felt so overwhelmed by life’s chaos? Maybe they were as lost as she often was, and longed for simplification and oversight in a world that threatened them with insanity because of all its complexity.

Complexity, that was the word. Few people seemed to have been able to survive this awareness of unsimplifiable complexity. Perhaps Nietzsche, though he had a notorious reputation. But then again, he suffered from severe hallucinations and mental breakdowns at the end of his life. Was this really completely independent from his philosophical opinions? She wasn’t sure. Or what about some great artists? Virginia Woolf maybe? But she drowned herself, fearing “she was going mad again”. Schumann hadn’t had more luck with his fate either. Perhaps after all it was safer to stick with some familiar simplifications, instead of set foot on the collapsing volcanic soils of complete consciousness of world’s chaos. It didn’t have to be some extremist doctrine, just some warm, comfortable and rather conventional world-view would be sufficient.

She was disgusted by her own thoughts. What happened to her? These times serenity and peace of mind seemed the Grail of most of her quests. Calming down, breathing, meditating, avoiding waves of melancholy and despair, or surviving them when necessary. Was this the only thing life was about? Reaching the upper state of some enlightenment because of the achievement of inner peace? She looked down at the rails, and shivered when she remembered some cold night many years ago. Darkness had never seemed more impenetrable than that night, her self-awareness had never been more suffocating. But — to her sincere surprise — as mentally unstable everyone had called her in those days, mere reason and common sense had saved her. They had forced her to crawl back into the light, and while her hands were still trembling of fear, they made her promise never ever come as close to the verge again. Ever since they had been standing along her side, like two secret guardian angels only she could see: Reason and Common Sense. They suspiciously watched her when she looked down from the library window on the seventh floor, exhausted by constant waves of fear and failure, reflecting on the vulnerability of human’s life. They knocked some sense into her when she lost all perspective yet another time. So now, when her train finally rumbled into the station, they made her put a few steps back, and she felt relieved, as if she had been gone through the eye of a needle. When she looked for a seat in the second class carriage, she tried to forget about the image of the cold metal rails and wheels, and focus on the purpose of her train journey. At least for now she had some clear destination.