The Midnight Library
The Midnight Library—Matt Haig
Read In: 2021
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As Nora escaped the shop, she wished there were nothing but doors ahead of her, which she could walk through one by one, leaving everything behind.
The thing she had once loved about swimming was the disappearing. In the water, her focus had been so pure that she thought of nothing else. Any school or home worries vanished. The art of swimming—she supposed like any art—was about purity. The more focused you were on the activity, the less focused you were on everything else. You kind of stopped being you and became the thing you were doing.
“People with stamina aren’t made any differently to anyone else,” she was saying. “The only difference is they have a clear goal in mind, and a determination to get there. Stamina is essential to stay focused in a life filled with distraction. It is the ability to stick to a task when you body and mind are at their limit, the ability to keep your head down, swimming in your lane, without looking around, worrying who might overtake you…”
The emotion people store in you, like a bad investment. You feel like you are robbing people of something.
To be part of nature was to be part of the will to live.
Maybe that was the only meaning that mattered. To be the world witnessing itself.
The life of a human, according to the Scottish philosopher David Hume, was of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.
But if it was important enough for David Hume to write that thought down, then maybe it was important enough to aim to do something good. To help preserve life, in all its forms.
She imagined what it would be like to accept herself completely. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn’t reached or pain she had felt. Every lust or longing she had suppressed.
She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale.
She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best.
And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free.
“Every universe exists over every other universe. Like a million pictures on tracing paper, all with slight variations within the same frame. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics suggests there are an infinite number of divergent parallel universes. Every moment of your life you enter a new universe. With every decision you make.”
Nora had read about multiverses and knew a bit about Gestalt psychology. About how human brains take complex information about the world and simplify it, so that when a human looks at a tree it translates the intricately complex mass of leaves and branches into this thing called “tree”. To be a human was to continually dumb the world down into an understandable story that keeps things simple.
“I have been so many things. On every continent on Earth. And yet I have never found the life for me. I am resigned to being this way forever. There will never be a life that I truly want to live forever. I get too curious. I get too much of a yearning to live another way. And you don’t need to make that face. It’s not sad. I am happily in limbo.”
“But . . . what if one day you disappear for good? Before you have found a life to settle in?”
He shrugged. “Then I will die. And it means I would have died anyway. In the life I lived before. I kind of like being a slider. I like imperfection. I like keeping death as an option. I like never having to settle.”
“You do realize there are infinite possibilities here? I mean, the multiverse isn’t about just some universes. It’s not about a handful of universes. It’s not even about a lot of universes. It’s not about a million of a billion or a trillion universes. It’s about an infinite number of universes. Even with you in them. You could be you in any version of the world, however unlikely that world would be. You are only limited by your imagination.”
“Dream big… You can be anything you want to be. Because in one life, you are.”
It was a very pleasant sensation. Both the kiss, and the knowledge she could be this forward. Being aware that everything that could possibly happen happened to her somewhere, in some life, kind of absolved her a little from decisions. That was just the reality of the universal wave function. Whatever was happening could—she reasoned—be put down to quantum physics.
Hugo, she concluded, was a strange person. For a man who had been so intimate and deep in his conversation, he was very detached in the moment. Maybe if you lived as many lives as he had, the only person you really had any kind of intimate relationship with was yourself.
“Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”
“Why want another universe if this one has dogs?”
It was one of life’s rules—never trust someone who is willingly rude to low paid service staff.
“Do you believe in the theory of parallel universes?”
She could see his face stretch into a smile. This was the kind of conversation on his wavelength. “Yes, I think so.”
“Me too. I mean, it’s science, isn’t it? It’s not like some geeky physicist just thought, ‘Hey, parallel universes are cool. Let’s make a theory about them.'”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Science distrusts anything that sounds too cool. Too sci-fi. Scientists are skeptics, as a rule.”
You could eat in the finest restaurants, you could partake in every sensual pleasure, you could sing on stage in São Paulo to twenty thousand people, you could soak up whole thunderstorms of applause, you could travel to the ends of the Earth, you could be followed by millions on the internet, you could win Olympic medals, but this was all meaningless without love.
We don’t have to play every game to know what winning feels like. We don’t have to hear every piece of music in the world to understand music. We don’t have to have tried every variety of grape from every vineyard to know the pleasure of wine. Love and laughter and fear and pain are universal currencies.
We just have to close our eyes and savor the taste of the drink in front of us and listen to the song as it plays. We are as completely and utterly alive as we are in any other life and have access to the same emotional spectrum.
We only need to be one person.
We only need to feel one existence.
We don’t have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite. While we are alive we always contain a future of multifarious possibility.
Flowers she hadn’t appreciated before, but which now mesmerized her with the most exquisite purple she had ever seen. As though the flowers weren’t just colors but part of a language, notes in a glorious floral melody, as powerful as Chopin, silently communicating the breathtaking majesty of life itself.
The paradox of volcanoes was that they were symbols of destruction but also life. Once the lava slows and cools, it solidifies and then breaks down over time to become soil—rich, fertile soil.
She wasn’t a black hole, she decided. She was a volcano. And like a volcano she couldn’t run away from herself. She’d have to stay there and tend to that wasteland.
She could plant a forest inside herself.