We make our own bed and in it we lie. We stand and fall by the choices we make. Little gods all of us. The Muslims calculate that we are categorically not, and that man’s lifescript was written by the only God, the big guy who does what any immortal would with all the time in the world on His hands: script-write our part in which the denouement is always the same, that we end up dead and either picnicking in His heavenly garden or feeding Hellfire. This they call maktoob. This I call the reason for their happiness.
But I was not exactly raised into a spiritualised culture that believes all things happen for reasons, reasons which may not appear clear to us at their time of happening. Rather, our Calvinist-infused mantra growing up was Life Is What You Make Of It. Life is there for the taking. Leave nothing for death but the burnt-out castle of your existence. So ingrained was this philosophy of finding our purpose (because it would not go out of its way to find us) that the responsibility we shouldered for every little thing we did rightly or wrongly, misguidedly or otherwise, was our weight to carry.
In time, though, I would come to learn this view was not universally shared. Merely by hopping on a plane to a destination plucked from the Adventures of Tintin, one could find broad swathes of humanity who didn’t feel the need to beat themselves up for every decision that backfired. It came as a shock to encounter those happy-go-lucky souls convinced that a divine wind was blowing their sails along to a port, any port would do. A masterplan governing the character and sequence of each successive event that combined to map this thing called life? Viewed through these Occidental eyes, it was therefore difficult to conceive of life as anything other than a series of personal decisions independently arrived at, some lousy, some inspired, all mildly consequential to their outcome.
What’s the deal with this mid-life crisis? At what stage in evolutionary history did that little voice begin nagging us with: What the hell am i doing with my life? Why am I living in a desert? What the fuck happened to my marriage prospects? Where’s the women of my dreams? Why did I end up doing this shit for 40 hours a week, 42 weeks a year? Why did I end up as an economic migrant? Why did I save that puppy knowing he would change the course of my 30-something years? And if life is indeed what you make of it, is it too late to unmake it?
The Revenant. The word sounds good rumbling from a gastric pit of heartfelt conviction. Comes gurgling up and vibrating past the uvula, against the palate and back down the nasal cavity as many a French word does. As this controlled expulsion of air moves toward the front of the mouth, the lips start wagging and pursing. The word is pouted out, pushed, blown, respiré, and if your French is good enough – which mine n’est pas – the euphonious effect sends shivers spiralling down the spine of anyone in earshot.
Revenant – noun. From the French verb revenir, to come back, to return.
One can return to an indirect object, such as I return to you or home. One can, for that matter, return to oneself, as in I came back to myself, or I avenged myself. While failing to scale the dizzying, spellbinding heights and lows of Di Caprio’s character Hugh Glass, I came back, too, in a manner of speaking. Coming back (in the sense that these personal journeys take time), is possibly more accurate.
The frontiers were already fronted by the time I tried to be that frontiersman. As an itinerant hippy with a penchant for far-off places, I milked it for a good twenty years before the penny dropped, or more accurately, the riyals and the dirhams. Broke at 40, prospects sinking, relationships faltering on the question of my true worth, the choices were narrowing with age. The Gravy Train was departing Platform 9 & 3/4s for the oil sands and what fool wouldn’t board it with nothing to lose and everything to gain? Little did i know that money is not the be all and end all, that when you turn your own life inside out, then that phrase nothing to lose and everything to gain, inverts itself to become everything to lose and nothing to gain. I wanted romance and passion all along and gave myself instead a simulacrum of it. Then The Revenant came along and the fantasy machine sputtered back to life. Now I saw not the humdrum, mechanistic means of becoming financially secure; now I saw a cryogenic man being heated back to life. It was duly decided and not by any force majeure: my own personal showdown with Fitzgerald would be a knife fight by the icy banks of the photocopier next to the ‘coffee corner’ where the talk is seditious and the threats to walk away increase daily. It is there I will gain my vengeance, in this life and not the next (sorry Maximus Decimus Meridius).
The parallels are hit as they are miss. I went fur trapping in the dry dominions, searching a quiet and modest fortune without the concomitant glory. Almost run down by marauding natives in Toyota Corollas, I’m surviving the privations of luxury to smuggle out a bundle of cash worth every elk hide that was brutally got by Glass, Fitzgerald and the rest of their frontier party. I was left for dead. It’s funny how distance makes the heart grow distant. The weather was extreme, the way back arduous, less than certain.
Where the she-bear comes into the life narrative, I cannot say. I’m thinking there might have been a physically undetectable mauling somewhere along the way. The outward signs, the six-inch claws gouging acres into my back and fracking my face, were always absent precisely because the mauling had turned inward from an early stage. It scratched the soul, deep drilling into the bedrock of the brain to extract that good oil lighting the spirit. And all for a bucket of gold.
Man’s struggle against nature. Man’s struggle against his own nature. Glass is the revenant, he who returns from an improbable place. He bucks his fate or, put mathematically, shortens long odds with every successive event on his journey back to reckoning. His struggle is a leitmotif of the seemingly ordinary life. So, if your are wearing a shirt and tie instead of a bearskin, if you’re battling the photocopier instead of the elements, and you know that it’s the bearskin you ought to be wearing and the elements you really ought to be battling, then you’ll know that you too can be a revenant. Death is a conscious choice, after all.