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by Tora Chung

August 12, 2012



A while back, at the height of my dizzying “Downton Abbey” obsession, I came upon a short film by Emma Lightfoot titled “The Switch,” which starred a younger and almost unrecognizable Dan Stevens. It was a dark film, not only visually but thematically, and uncomfortable to watch due mainly to the female voice-over that left me disoriented. I hoped in vain that the ending might explain the gender switch or that the title might be referring to it. But by the end, when Stevens’ character had discovered a switch on his body and sat on the sofa pondering his existential dilemma, I had forgotten my puzzlement and was left thinking only of the voice-over’s last words: “I don’t know what it does.  Am I on or am I off? I hate it.”


At the time, I had been struck by the film’s relevance to my own existential struggles. I felt that I, like many, was faced with this same question: Was I fully alive or not? Would I have the courage to flip that switch and potentially live the life I was meant to live if there was a possibility I might crash and burn and lose it all? Would I have the ingenuity and wisdom of Daedalus or the hubris of Icarus?


Since watching the film, I have been haunted by it, the question swimming in and out of my consciousness at random moments, never soliciting a definite answer. Would this be my eternal question, one that I would not have the courage to answer and therefore answer by default?


Today, it struck me that I had been wrong. It was not the fear of crashing and burning, of failing, of dying, of turning myself off, but rather the fear of turning myself fully on. It was the fear of fully committing to life, of taking responsibility for that ultimate choice, of risking the safety and comfort of the known status quo for the great unknown—however wonderful it might turn out to be. It was not the falling I was afraid of, but the possibility of touching the sun.


The truth is I know the answer to the film’s question: I am off. What scares me is ON. So the real question is, will I flip the switch knowing that I will turn on? I’d like to say an unequivocal yes, but the glaring truth is that I haven’t flipped the switch yet.

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