This piece originally appeared in The Voice, KU Leuven student magazine.
Thoughts on climbing an abandoned tower
Do you hear that? That’s the world around you. Right now, as you read this, life is.
There are moments, perhaps you can relate, when looking up at the spring sky and noticing the warmth of the sun gently falling in the chill of the air, that I feel okay. Things are okay. Amidst the confusion and pain, the love lost, the quiet forgetfulness of friendships, despite all of it, I am me, here, now.
Heidegger writes about Dasein, a “being-there”. For him, to be is not some esoteric concept but is the flesh and blood reality of being in this world, this life, right now; Part of a whole.
Interestingly, it is often when we are alone that we encounter these sorts of moments. Our solitude reminds us of our finitude and, in turn, of our Dasein. In some sense, to flourish is to acknowledge our smallness, to look into oblivion and be okay with it, because whether you appreciate it or not, the fact that you are, in the immensity of all things, is, in itself, remarkable.
Recently I explored an abandoned building in the Vaartkom, which is in the north of Leuven. I think it was an old Stella factory. I climbed in through a broken window, over a rusted handrail and into the eerie, dusty silence of a place long forgotten. Cautiously, at first, I clambered my way up creaky staircases, through corridors with leering holes in the floor. I climbed over machinery that had long since lost its purpose and up rickety ladders, under the curious gaze of roosting pigeons who cooed gently as I disturbed their rest. It doesn’t take long for our own constructions to turn against us, for shelters to become inhospitable and alien. Bushes had found cracks to grow in, moss had engulfed walls and ceilings, and slowly, nature had reclaimed its right to be there. It was precisely the abandoned emptiness of this old building that had enabled life to flourish once more.
I emerged from a small hatch in the roof, after forcing myself to climb a wrought iron ladder which, had its fastenings failed, would have sent me plummeting to my death. I had reached the top and, around me Leuven lived. A strange surprise greeted me here: my name, spray painted onto the side of the wall. It was as if I had encountered myself in that broken and wasted place, as if I had been waiting for me. It was a surreal moment. But it was also a moment that gives me hope; for life, for the world. In our daily battles, life is there, we are there but we forget this. We enter into the constructs and concepts that surround us but if we were to abandon them, even if just for a moment, we would find that we are larger than the systems that we follow and the roles we assume. We’ll find we were there all along, waiting for ourselves to brave the climb, to face our own smallness in the immensity of everything that is and be.