Not enough. One life is not enough.
I’d like to live twice on this sad planet,
In lonely cities, in starved villages,
To look at all evil, at the decay of bodies,
And probe the laws to which the time was subject,
Time that howled above us like a wind.
When I was a boy, a little Parisian growing up in the days of gaslight and rationing, my father sent me to take some air in the countryside, where I was cared for by an old couple. The husband was a gardener, he tinkered with this and that, between carrot plants and rows of begonias. The old chap was sweet and gentle, even towards his enemies the snails. When his wife was around, he wouldn’t open his mouth, you would have thought that she had cut off his tongue, and maybe something else, too. He wasn’t even allowed to go the bistrot with his friends. I was his confidant, the only person, I think, who ever really took an interest in his story. He told me about a time long ago when he had been a man. It had lasted four terrible and mighty years, from 1914 to 1918.
He may have been a bit simple, but he had a sharp eye and a steady arm. An officer had taken note of the chap’s talent and made him an elite sniper, which was a privilege. Armed with his Lebel, he shot the enemy to pieces with passion and precision, without hatred or remorse. Free to choose his target and his hours, exempt from most chores, he was somebody. He shot officers in epaulettes, stripes and Feldgrau. He cited some improbable numbers, probably inflated in his chattering little head over thirty years of solitary ruminations.
Thanks to him, I discovered a staggering truth: that the life of a man does not consist of the wretched years that drag themselves from the cradle to the grave, but of a few, rare, dazzling flashes of lightning; those are the only ones worthy of being called life. The moments we owe to war, love, adventure, mystical ecstasy, or creation. To him, the war had generously granted four years of life, an inordinate privilege compared to all the bipeds who go to their graves without ever having lived.
Did you know that for pretty much the entire history of the human species, the average life span was less than thirty years? You could count on ten years or so of real adulthood, right? There was no planning for retirement, There was no planning for a career. There was no planning. No time for plannning. No time for a future. But then the life spans started getting longer, and people started having more and more future. And now life has become the future. Every moment of your life is lived for the future—you go to high school so you can go to college so you can get a good job so you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college.
People think first love is sweet, and never sweeter than when that first bond snaps. You’ve heard a thousand pop and country songs that prove the point; some fool got his heart broke. Yet that first broken heart is always the most painful, the slowest to mend, and leaves the most visible scar. What’s so sweet about that?