NON FICTION: The Universe Doesn’t Give A Damn About You

Sand dunes in a house

Photo: Jean Wimmerlin

There are times when life kicks you in the butt, and then there are times when it really gives you a shafting. You know, those times when you metaphorically feel like you’re getting drawn and quartered after you’ve had ten inches shaved off your height at the guillotine.

At these junctures in life, the problems will seem like they’ll never end, like the eternal crash of waves on the seashore. You’ll curse the heavens and call on anyone who’d listen to your plight. How could the world be so cruel? Can’t the gods see the injustice? Only once the initial anger passes will you see the truth: The universe doesn’t give a damn about you.

And why should it? It didn’t care when a huge-ass meteor wiped out all life on Earth some sixty million years ago, so it sure as hell wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about your car breaking down or your debilitating debt.

Take that, sucker

You can be loyal to a company for twelve years, never once clocking in a minute past nine, yet still find yourself on the receiving end of a severance package during a recession.

You could spend every spare minute out of your seventy-hour workweek on an epic sculpture, only to lose years of your work to a flood or tornado.

You can even live the life of an ascetic—never touch a cigarette or glass of wine, work out regularly, choose steamed food over doughnuts—and still get cancer at the age of twenty-seven.

Even the small things can make it seem like the world is out to get you. Take, for instance, a day where you’re running late for work (and if you’re the punctual one among us, then humour me and imagine this scenario). It’s usually this exact day that the garbage truck chooses to block the street, before you’re greeted with red traffic lights at every intersection. Then you spill coffee on yourself and, once you make it to the office in a stained shirt, everyone from C-suite learns about your tardiness because they all happen to be there for a meeting.

Every once in a while, the universe flips you the finger like that and there’s nothing you can do about it. There are so many shitty events that could occur despite your best preventive efforts, and when they do happen, you’ll feel as though the universe hates you. But it doesn’t really hate you. It just doesn’t care.

The universe doesn’t care about me too

I, too, just had a run-in with the-universe-hates-me-itis. First was a bad business deal with a bunch of ‘friends’—a term that I’ve had to revisit since—then came the deletion of my byline on a news portal. A swift one-two punch that had me sitting on the sidelines for a bit.

My first encounter left me with a bank balance that was a few digits shorter than it originally was. I wasn’t done reeling from the betrayal before I was blindsided by the publishing house I used to work for. 

This company had decided to remove all bylines from ex-staff, effectively shrinking many a writer’s portfolio—yours truly’s included. That came as a huge surprise as I’ve had a great working relationship with them for many years.

I’m well aware that life isn’t a bed of roses, and I totally accept the fact that worse things have happened to better people, but boy is there a distinctive ‘fuck you’ flavour to the wounds caused by those close to you.

As much as I think of myself as a loner who doesn’t need people—and their approval—in his life, I do find myself heavily affected by social stressors. One such example would be the time a client wrongly criticised my work and I couldn’t sleep for three nights until the matter was resolved.

So if something so small can bother me that much, you can bet your ass that there’s a whale-sized storm churning in my gut right now. When it comes to interpersonal confrontation, I care way too much about the littlest of things, and this is coming from a person who’d drive himself home after tearing a shoulder and going right back to training as soon as it’s stopped creaking.

One man’s poison

Some of you might be reading this going: “What’s the big deal? Just move on already,” and you’d be right. Sometimes I murmur the same words when reading other people’s posts too.

Like, I don’t really see what could be so distressing about a random celebrity’s death or a two-hour flight delay, but I do get the sweats when I’m at lunch with a friend and a stranger, and my friend decides to go on a long toilet break. So yeah, we all have our big and small things, which further adds to the point of this story: the universe doesn’t give a damn about you.

It doesn’t care about your dead dog, your neighbour’s raging hangover, your friend’s testicular torsion, a stranger’s stolen credit card… it is what it is and we’re all equally forsaken.

Now, I’m sure you’ve reached your daily quota of doom and gloom by now, but stay with me.

“We get it,” you say. “The universe doesn’t give a damn about me. Where are you going with this?”

Well here’s the kicker. The universe does indeed not care about you. But that’s good. And it’s all right.

In our pursuit of happiness, we often forget that pain makes for a better teacher than pleasure ever will. Let me take you a decade back in my life for the moral of the story.

Professor Pain

My old Muay Thai coach used to smack me so hard in the ear whenever I dropped my hand during a punch. I’m not talking about tap, haha gotcha checks, but ones that leave a little ring in your head.

Of course, my interpersonal gyroscope being what it was, I thought that maybe he disliked me, or the idea of a drunk farang staying in his gym (hey, I was in a soul-seeking phase). So after weeks of eating leather, I finally worked up the courage to ask him about it.

“Hey kru, why do you have to hit so hard during padwork?” I asked. “It’s just practice, right?”

All I got in reply was an absent stare. I might as well have been speaking in German. But then he smiled and asked me to punch him in the face. I swear I thought I was in some Thai version of Fight Club.

“Now?” I asked.

“Yes, here! My nose. Leau!”

I shrugged and threw a half-assed punch, to which he countered with a perfect left hook to my jaw. But all that thumping from weeks past had ingrained a new memory in my muscles, and his fist found nothing but my arm.

He must’ve had tremendous faith in me, because had my hand not been there, I’d probably have been put to sleep. Even with the block I felt the shockwaves blast through my skull.

“You see?” His smile grew wider. He slapped my blocking arm a couple more times for effect. “Maybe is pain, but after that, you learn. No pain, no learn! Same in life.”

He did have a point. Would I have developed that habit if all he did was tell me to put my hand up? I really doubt it.

And that’s the story I try to recall every time I go through a painful experience. It takes a while to overcome the initial knee-jerk reaction, but once you really get down to it, every problem really does offer a lesson to learn from.

Maybe I hadn’t learned enough about business before leaping into this project that was doomed to fail from the start. Perhaps I don’t have enough street cred for people to want to keep my brand associated to their content. Maybe it’s pain that drives me to write, and this is the universe’s way of pushing me to create. I don’t know.

But I do know that pain can be a catalyst for change, and what better purpose is there in life other than to constantly change into the best version of ourselves?

As cruel as the universe can be sometimes, you’ve gotta admit that every setback can be a learning experience. You might even unknowingly develop a defence against all the punches life can throw at you, smiling coach not included.

And who knows, with enough hard work and determination, maybe you can make the universe give a damn about you.

You know what else the universe doesn’t care about? If you follow my author page on Facebook or leave a comment on this article. So do them. Now.

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