[had this on my old blog, got good review from A.D. 😉 ]
Just the other day as I was stepping out of one of Lucerne’s blue and white trolley buses, it happened again, as unexpectedly as always: time slowed down and almost came to a standstill. As I exited down the two short steps and turned to my left, I saw an old lady with a hat moving strangely. The next instant I realized she was actually falling, more or less in my direction. She stuck out her stick to find some balance and stave off gravity’s cruel attack but it was no use.
By the time I had figured out the old lady is actually falling, time had already considerably slowed and taken on, in a way, a gelatinous texture. After her cane failed to defend her from earth’s pull, her backwards tumble took on a twisting element, meaning that her body, if whether from instinct or biophysics was impossible to tell, began a sidewards roll that seemed designed to minimize the damage of impact. It could have been completely inadvertent, a matter of momentum and sheer good luck. But it is nice to think that even in our high age our bodies, despite the odds of death constantly increasing until we lose the game, still has one or two tricks it can perform with minimal effort. It is nice for me to imagine that I will dodge artfully the grim reaper’s scye’s first swing, yes 😉
In any case, when the old lady was perhaps one third of the way down and I had progressed, perhaps half a step or even a full one in her direction, a further thing occured to me but only as an abstraction: I might be able to break the fall! I might, I could, full daylight revealed to me that there is this possibility, that perhaps there is a world where I would do such a thing. The chance of affording the unlucky senior citizen a soft landing was not even quite a suggestion, it had no performative force but just stood there in a vast space of possibilities.
In that same space of my mind coming to grips with this unfamiliar sight of an octo- or nontogenarian falling over onto her back, was the insight that here not just has come a cropper or a tumble or a human backwards spill but, indeed, an acute public humiliation: the senior citizen was exposed for all the world to see as unstable, frail and possibly, such must have been some of the speculations of the bystanders, senile and incontinent. The basic human capacity of walking and/or standing up straight was coming up for review and the elderly lady, crashing towards the unforgiving hardtop, was evidently failing badly.
It is not such an easy sight, to see a fellow human being come to harm but rather than stop her, I had to perversely let her fall to her hard fate, not because I wanted to see this anonymous golden ager be humiliated in front of everybody but because there was a sense that somehow we could all learn from this. From childhood I remember that, at times, documentarians let extremely cruel things happen to animals to elucidate some point or other. I was now perhaps operating at that same level as the faithful documentarian who lets nature take its course.
And it was her full fall that must have conveyed the message to everybody unmistakably: in the end we all become old, frail and entirely prone to death.
I think at one point she even tried to make a step backwards and regain her balance but by then it was too late and the course of the play, its precise didactic value, had already been decided by forces much larger than her cane and failing legs. Plus also another reason I couldn’t stop her was a more trivial one: this was a spectacle and in Debord’s society of the spectacle surely I did not want to stand accused of stopping one from unfolding, especially if it had so much to tell us about human nature, senescence and, to the more observant observers who might have taken note that nobody stepped in to hinder the fall of the old timer in the flowing white floral skirt with a wide brimmed hat [it was almost too clicheed an outfit for a july day to believe] certain inbred impulses towards cruelty. When a child one wants to know the innards of a radio, right then, the other day, did I want to see what was inside the old lady’s head when it came upon the concrete? Was I in need of a concrete example? I suppose the easiest thing to associate the absence of instantaneous altruism with is the death drive, who knows.
There was also the peripheral insight, that I would probably come too late to help her, so that rather than averting the octo-/nontogenarian calamity, she would awkwardly bounce off of my knees and thence to the sidewalk’s stonelike surface, which could then be interpreted by the casual bystander as either a bit of comic relief or the recognition of bonafide, if failed emergency good-will. Both of this seem, or seemed if indeed i did have such a concatenation of insights at the time, less desirable than the purity of letting the thing unfold to its logical end.