“You know,” he said, pointing to the TV, “I wouldn’t be able to do it; hit that stupid button all the time.” He was referring to Lost, the television show we watch together every Wednesday night. The twisting plot, for now, revolves around a bunker that the survivors of a plane crash found on the island they’ve been stranded on for months. In the bunker, there’s a clock that counts down and a computer, and a code must be entered into the computer when the clock nears zero. They only know they have to enter the code because of instructions left by the people who inhabited the space before them. “I just couldn’t keep putting that code in day after day, not knowing what would happen if I didn’t.”
“Really?” I thought about what I would do in the situation.
He lit a cigarette while I rearranged myself in the crook of his arm. “Really. I mean, I might die if I don’t hit it, but at least then I’d know, you know? I just couldn’t handle not knowing. I would definitely not enter it, just to see.”
“I think I’d probably push the button. I think I’d be scared of what would happen if I didn’t enter the code and whatnot.”
“Hmmm,” he said, surveying me from the corner of his eye. “You wouldn’t be curious to know what would happen if you didn’t hit it?”
“Well, of course I’d be curious. But…I don’t know…I think I’d enter it.”
“Because some weird guy on an old instructional movie told you to? It could be great if you didn’t hit it. Maybe you’d be rescued if you didn’t enter the code…”
“Or,” I interrupted, “I could die, or be beaten. Or, I don't know....It could be really horrible.”
“Well, I’d take that chance.”
I laughed at how obvious the parallel was between the silly button scenario and our lives.
Billy’s lived his whole life not pushing the button. Not doing what he was told, jumping without fear of what’s below him, going out on a limb or out of the country because it could be great. And if it wasn’t great, then at least he knew.
I, on the other hand, have lived my life sitting in front of the figurative computer, waiting for the clock to get close to zero so that I could dutifully enter the code. I don’t want to rock the boat, I don’t want to chance the possibly horrible consequences that come with not pushing the button. I’m scared of what will happen if I don’t do it.
The difference is, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by continuing to push the button. He does.
“What if you were really happy?” I said, after a few moments’ silence.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what if you were stuck on this island, but you were really happy? Would you still be so curious about what would happen if you didn’t hit the button? Or would you be okay with continuing to enter the code because your life was good – great, even – as long as you were doing it? And not entering it could be catastrophic. Would you still want to not enter it?”
He considered what I said. “But you’re stuck at the computer. You can’t spend an afternoon at the beach…”
We got off-track, when we started talking about the beach. I never did get to find out if he’d chance losing happiness if all he had to do to maintain it was hit a button.