Recently, I watched the Derren Brown special, Hero at 30,000 Feet. Those of you lucky enough to have access to 4oD will be able to watch the episode at this link. Others may have to search for it on YouTube. I don’t believe it is out on DVD yet, though I may be wrong.
Briefly, without giving away too much detail, it is about Matt – a young man who is stuck in a rut and who is terrified of flying – being given the chance to change the course his life is on and prove himself a hero.
I won’t get into the question of whether the shows are truly genuine or whether they are edited to appear a certain way. That may be so, but for now what I am interested in is the point behind this show: to jolt people into understanding that they cannot be passive when it comes to their own lives. To get them to engage with their life. Hopefully nobody will insist on landing a plane (please, don’t be silly) but take note of the changes, however big or small, they can make in their own lives to improve them. What I must also emphasize is that in order to be ‘heroic’ (literally or figuratively), you must also be ready to take risks, and make an effort to be as kind as you can to the people you meet. To me you are a hero even if your heroic act simply consists of going to a home for the elderly and being friendly with the residents.
This episode moved me in a really profound way. Many of its viewers will (I hope) be moved into changing their lives. For me, it rang so true because it reminded me of my own journey to get to where I am.
And so, here I am, at midnight on a school night, typing up a post which is about a year in the making. About a year ago, I cemented the decision to apply to college to do my Master’s degree. Not just that – to move away from my home country and realise a dream I have had for as long as I can remember.
Now there are some things you should know about me. Firstly, that I am an atheist. However, while I absolutely do not believe in intelligent design, nor a benevolent god (perhaps this is an issue I will revisit in a future entry), I am awed every single day by the beauty and the immensity of the universe and its contents. Which means you. And me. And the stars and sea and clouds. I am awed BECAUSE I do not believe in intelligent design – I believe in ordered chaos and I believe we are truly, you and I, fortunate to be here. Right now. At this very second. Me sitting in bed in Dublin, writing; and you, reading this on your laptop or phone or tablet. This is a theme which the show emphasizes. That we are here right now is an absolute gift. It is a miracle. An infinite amount of things, the slightest twitch of a butterfly’s wing, could have changed the course for me, for us. And who knows? Perhaps there are universes in which I do not exist. You do not exist. There are no butterflies. But my consciousness is rooted in this reality and if there is one thing I know with absolute certainty, it is that I cannot let such a precious, precious gift go to waste.
Now, I have no delusions of grandeur. I wish I were in a position to change the world for the better, but the best I can hope to do, at least for now, is to change my own life and better the lives of the people around me as much as I can. And maybe that is more than enough. I do not harbour any delusions of grandeur; nor do I believe our existence is inconsequential.
For a while, I believed in destiny. For a while I believed I was on a path which led me to where I was supposed to be. But now I believe that I have chosen which way to go at every fork in the road. Why? Because this gives me power and control over my own life. Believing in fate may suit some, but it seems defeatist to me. Because you absolve yourself of any fuck up, of any glitch, and attribute it to a higher power. Even more so because if you believe in destiny you cannot celebrate the fact that you are remarkable and that you have choice every step of the way and that you are HERE, NOW because of YOU.
I am here, in Dublin, doing this course, with another huge opportunity presenting itself to me, not because of some pre-destined path, but because one morning last year it finally dawned on me that there had been big, big flashing neon signs everywhere I went trying to shake me up and make me realise that I needed to be in charge of my own life which I chose to ignore every step of the way.
I have always wanted to live abroad. I have always wanted to live an extraordinary life. It was what got me through a lot of things. Until I found myself, last year, living a perfectly comfortable existence. I had a static but stable job, I had a pretty house with pretty things, I had friends.
But inside of me was this force that had been kicking and screaming and which I had managed to silence for a number of years.
And I realised that if I was going to even start to think about living my life the way I wanted it to live it, I would have to do some things that terrified the crap out of me.
Like leave Malta which, comfortable as it was, was crushing my spirit.
And so, a chain of events and signals which I FINALLY picked up on, led me to apply, one insomnia-riddled night, to six colleges to study Digital Media at Master’s level. My hands were trembling as I hit ‘send’. It was the first step. Then the acceptance letters came and then I’d chosen a college and then I confirmed my place in the course and then I booked flight tickets.
And before I knew it I was packing up my entire life into boxes. Sorting my things into three piles: keep, store, throw away. It was cathartic. It was cleansing. It was heart-breaking. It was wonderful and awful and the nights leading up to my flight away, to my new life, were long and sleepless.
But I did it.
And I will bloody well do it again if I have to.
I may not be a hero. I may not have offered to land an aircraft, but I took the reins into my own hands and here I am.
What is your heroic act going to be?