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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 - 6:23 a.m.


There is a scene at the end of Stan Lai's 8 hour play, A Dream of A Dream, where a young doctor is sitting on the bed of her dying patient, who is inhaling, and exhaling the last few, numbered breaths of his existence. The patient, the anonymously named Patient Number 5, has just spent 8 hours telling the young doctor his life's stories, and the stories within those stories. The play is about how each character's choices, mistakes and regrets, echo, repeat and ripple through 1930s Shanghai, Bohemian Paris, modern-day Taipei, for eternity. At the end of the play (if it truly does end) one is unsure which of the characters' stories are dreams. Perhaps they all are, including our transcendental act of watching the actors.

The young doctor inhales and exhales deeply and deliberately, to take away the dying man's suffering, and to give him her peace and happiness. The dying man realizes this, and says, No, I'm the one going away. You take my happiness. Let me take away your pain. He inhales. And exhales, until he passes away.


As the air passes from one dying lung, up the windpipe, and crosses the empty space towards another human body, the woman and her daughter seated in front of me start tearing, wiping away their faces with ripples of tissue paper. Myself—I then felt a cold frission of sadness that threatened to overwhelm, like the water at the gravitational edge of a waterfall. This made me ask: why does one cry when encountering true art?

The only answer I have is that the scene stripped everything away, and depicted the naked act of one creature carrying away another creature's pain, even at the moment of his passing, in the minutes before he becomes lost forever. It is unclear why this resonates so strongly, and so universally within us. Perhaps it invokes something that happened to us long ago—since forgotten, but not completely lost.


The seconds that it takes to draw a breath in—that time is lost, and in those seconds, our bodies age as well. In those seconds, we draw closer to that common oblivion where lost time also resides, as a junkyard of broken clocks, hour-glasses, wrist-watches, stacks of irreparable seconds and centuries piled on top of each other.

In those seconds over which the lungs inflate, and air races down our trachea, the act of carrying someone else's pain occurs over and over again, through the seconds of different lives across the millenia of history. There are 32 moments in each moment of breath, and when one sums all the breaths ever taken—and the inspirations one has left to take—the carrying of another's pain, becomes something eternal within the ephemeral act of drawing another breath.



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