In a world ridden with an uncountable number of diseases, it’s easy to lose track of those few that we always mistake for harmless habits. Sure, Dr. So-and-so knows how to diagnose your drug addiction, but when it comes to excessive partying, your time is up until next week. There’s a new pandemic plaguing the streets, and without a doctorate or a scholarly plaque on my wall, I’m going to attempt to give it a definition. I call it the Carpe Diem Syndrome;
The compulsion to live in a reckless and extreme manner prompted by a
dim prospect of the future or a disbelief in life after death.
For some strange reason, this illness is more prevalent on Friday and Saturday night. People who have been infected by this tend to subscribe to the whole you only live once philosophy, an empty scraping of wisdom that teaches, since this is the only time you get to live, you might as well live it to the fullest, which incidentally entails alcoholism, promiscuity, drug addiction, and a cold disregard for the meaning of, well, regard. Love takes on a whole new meaning and suddenly begins to direct itself inwardly instead of outwardly. Other symptoms include a vicious desire to spend one’s money on objects of vanity, escapism, and just about anything that doesn’t require a long-term investment, or remind them of the future at all, for that matter. The infected may also experience a strong sense of dissatisfaction or lack of fulfillment in their life. This is especially common in North Americans for the simple reason that television and most of what we call modern culture has become almost entirely virtual, which, for the not so computer savvy, is when digital software simulates the illusion of something existing when, in fact, it doesn’t. These are the building blocks with which society has been built. Of course, with online social lives, animated role models, and sit-coms making upscale lifestyles look ever so accessible, the dreams of a nation begin to skyrocket up and up until an unemployed college graduate stuck in a cramped apartment complex mistakes his detachment from reality for optimism and hands over his next month’s rent payment to Guess for a new pair of slacks as part of his weekly dose of ignorant self-medication that in his mind seems like a stylish way to reinvent his life. Once the time comes that he finally realizes that his teachers were nothing more than pixels on a plasma display and the dreams of his youth have all quickly been replaced by regrets, in come the three D’s: disappointment, depression, and doubt. The Latin poet Horace said, “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero”, which means, “Seize the day, putting as little trust in the future as possible.” To any sorry sap who spends more on drinks than food, this surely sounds like a juicy mouthful of ancient wisdom, because anything written in Latin must of course be wisely profound. All that this really accomplishes is to further feed his confidence in the impulsive whims that he’s already resorted to for transitory, sensual gratification, like cheering on a morbidly obese man as he drools over his fifth Quarter Pounder instead of calling for an ambulance. The Carpe Diem Syndrome often preys on people who don’t know where to run when their confused, scared, or beaten down by the seemingly endless grind of life. It’s a fear-seeking missile made to annihilate the masses by making them feel good about their problems as it explodes a comforting sense that they’re methods of escapism are acceptable so long as they are with others who give equal or less crap about life than they do. The equation ends up looking a little like this: pack mentality + escapism = superficial indestructibility. With no faith in the existence of God or any kind of continuance of life further than the miserable hand that they’ve already been dealt, their logic proceeds to calculate the best way to spend this pointlessly fleeting sum of years and deduces that there’s no point in doing anything besides living the best life possible, day by day, moment to moment, which to me has always sounded peacefully charming in a Zen proverb kind of way, but when you actually analyze the result of this type of reasoning, you’re likely not to find someone deep in meditation with a lotus sitting gently in each of their palms, but a hung-over corpse waking up in a stranger’s bed next to a bucket of his own vomit and the drooping countenance of a six-month cancer patient. “C’est la vie.” And on it goes. People like this don’t mean to end up in the rut, they just do.
Who do we run to when life throws a punch? Do we lend our ears to the wise, the elderly, the divine, or the flashy social conditioning venues, such as music and movies, which will ever so charismatically tell us that supermodels are the benchmark of all beauty and our marriage is a big Venus Flytrap waiting to snap shut. On channel 5, we have Oprah Winfrey to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside by telling us that we should take another me day, because we deserve it, as if slumping on a sofa is somehow deserving of even more attention on one’s self. And if that’s not enough, there’s always prime time movie hour with another cunning market ploy that the studios have somehow passed off as a comedy with the incredibly innovative plotline being a few friends getting wasted, which is really not so different from what they expect every one of their millions of devoted fans to do every weekend from thereon afterwards. This is how the Carpe Diem Syndrome became a national pandemic. I mean, do the math. America has entered into the doom zone of debt, unemployment rates are setting historical records, our government is funneling hundreds of millions of unnecessary tax dollars to the airline industry each year just because a few federal employees refused to fly coach, and we’re still going to get our hair bleached at the salon for $95.00 every second week. It’s almost as if the Webster’s Dictionary committee has deleted the word future along with it’s every possible synonym so to mortally erase its meaning from our minds. Hey, at least it’s good for sales for those who cater ephemeral pleasure. There’s hardly an industry around that doesn’t somehow profit from a population that lives only for whatever cheap luxuries they can experience before they die. Now, try to imagine a planet where everyone is conscious of their future and making informed choices in life based on the prospect of eternity. Don’t worry, I couldn’t either. Believe me, I like to live like a narcissistic zombie and think that consequences have no effect on me just as much as the next guy, but when I go to line up outside the pub and find half the city lined up with me, including elementary school teachers and 15-year-old girls whose mothers gave them fake ID and a keychain canister of pepper spray, something’s gotta give.
This isn’t meant to be critically cynical, but in a strange way, autobiographical. In this social experiment, I guess you could say that I’m my own lab rat. I found that there was only one way out, one cure for a disease that was beyond human, and although it wasn’t exactly what I had expected to hear, it didn’t matter what I expected to hear, it mattered what worked. It doesn’t matter if Buckley’s cough syrup tastes like fruit punch or liquid genocide. Once I denied my appetite to eat only what tasted good, I was healed. Carpe Diem Syndrome became all but last night’s bad dream. If you don’t believe in an afterlife, you’ll probably find the cure to boredom and anxiety sitting on a barstool, your credit card will max out on throngs of weekly one-use doses of fun, and that confused fit of rage that shortly follows will further fuel your hatred and disbelief in God, which in turn begins the cycle all over again. So, where does it end? Jesus said in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” This is the crossroads where you have to ask yourself if what He said was deception or truth, if He was a liar or a God. Where does it all end? With me, the decision was made on my knees in brokenness and love with eyes clamped shut and a humbled volition to know the One who was about to save me from myself. I used to love the feeling of being in control of my life. Now, I thank God every day that I’m not.