On the flight back from Chicago yesterday, I sat next to a woman who might just be The Most Miserable Person in the World. And I say that without even having met all the people in the world.
She stayed on the phone from the moment we boarded to the moment we pushed off from the gate, and her entire conversation was a litany of her personal misery, described in the most minute detail imaginable. For nearly forty minutes, she shared her misery with whoever was on the other end of the phone, and me, and everyone else within earshot; we all learned of how unhappy she was on the trip to the airport, how bad the traffic was, how the bus arrived five minutes late, how heavy her suitcase was, how badly she needed to use the washroom on her trip through security. We learned how she did not like the man in front of her at the security checkpoint, how the employees of the airport would not help her take her shoes off, how difficult it was for her to find her ID in her purse.
And through it all, i learned many things about misery I’ve never before known. Her misery was fractal in nature; every part of her misery, when looked at in isolation, was just as bad as her misery taken as a whole.
Take her need to use the washroom, for instance. She zoomed in on that part of her misery, a trip as dizzying as any exploration of the Mandelbrot set. The urge began before she was even through security, making her misery at the whole miserable process just that much greater. And then, once past security, when she thought she would be able to do something about it, the man ahead of her dropped his boarding pass. She tried to tell him that he had dropped his boarding pass, but he would not listen to her; even while she chased after him, still he did not listen. And he moved away from the washrooms, increasing the time she had to travel to get there. And her shoes weren’t properly tied, so walking to the washroom was that much harder…especially in light of the carry-on bag she had to carry, which was heavy and tired her…
She relayed his tale in a voice clearly practiced, honed for the task like a sushi chef’s favorite knife, the tool fitted perfectly to the job to which it was put. Each vowel held just long enough to communicate the injustice of a cold world not appropriately aware of her needs, her suffering; consonants clipped in such a way as to express her contempt and disdain for the formless, faceless forces of malice arrayed against her.
It made me wonder if there is some quantum limit, some fundamental point past which no further resolution becomes possible. Her misery was tracked in such minute detail, and reported to such an astonishingly high fidelity, that I thought perhaps no. Perhaps there is no point past which the form and shape of her misery becomes lost in the fog of quantum uncertainty; perhaps her internal model of her misery really is infinite in its detail, so that any magnification, any level of zoom reveals more edges and whorls, more information about the precise contours of her suffering.
She continued her phone call until the flight attendant made her turn off the phone, her last comment to her unseen companion a bitter complaint about being forced to hang up.
There is a lesson in here somewhere, which your humble scribe is not clever enough to tease out.