Would You Rather?

 

On a recent camping trip I rediscovered one of my favorite games.

As August became September my friends and I burrowed into a canvas tent that offered a surprising amount of space, compared to the ones you’d piece together and stowaway in a proper backpack. Each night we took our places as if we’d rehearsed it earlier - one of us forgoing the initial plop onto the air mattress, the other plopping on the opposite end, and finally, the last plopping right smack in the middle. After clipping open our beers and queuing up a selection of songs on whichever phone wasn’t being used as a flashlight, we’d begin cozying up the night with shared conversation. At some point along the way we’d start playing a game I first encountered back on the West Coast. It arose amidst a long road trip with a dear friend, where we spent 5 winter nights driving through California and Nevada to the national parks of Arizona and Utah, hitching up a tent and our unforgivably non-insulating sleeping bags wherever we decided to stop, gaze, and hike. On those long drives, games became necessary. Throughout the trip, one in particular became my favorite.

It’s a simple agenda — Ask whoever’s in your company a single question composed of two alternatives, prompting the choice of one. Often it’s best to start off with simple ideas or humorous intentions, referencing this or that of previous events. Would you rather hike that mountain again or be eaten alive by mosquitoes? Would you rather have sex with the guy in the blue shirt or the waiter from the cafe?

But the magic of the game, the hidden treasures that come from a simple prompt of “would you rather”, reveals itself when the questions develop into more curious, complicated, or comprising ideas. The questions that require a few instances of further explanation. Would you rather give up all time alone or all time in intimate settings? Like, you would never be able to spend another moment alone, or, you would never be able to go on trips like this, have one on one conversations, anything personal or intimate.

The more and more questions we asked, the more and more inquisitive they became in their nature - questions of morals, values, social tendencies, personality traits, decision making… The more and more questions I asked, the more and more I began to navigate the questions I’ve been asking myself these past 23 years. Simple questions of human nature translated through a proposition of events, surveyed between friends who provide a surprising amount of insight.

If I took a personality test I would likely measure up as an extrovert, introspective, analytical, positive, open and trusting, for better or for worse. Sounds like the profile of a prime target for scams, perhaps why I get 20 spam calls a day on my broken iPhone. One of my friends would likely measure up as an introvert and the other of a more practical mindset. What surprised me as we went through round after round of questions was how every one of our answers tended to be the same. We were all different, but we were all the same. Non-scientific survey by non-scientific survey, one of my life long hunches seemed to be supported by social evidence: We’re all the same.

Everyone values intimacy more than anything, and people constitute the most meaningful parts of our lives.

Our last night camping we lit a few candles and shut off all other sources of light. One of my friends crawled up to the bunk above and fell asleep, while the other laid beside me without a word. As the candlelight illuminated the corners of the room just softly enough to animate the shapes of the wooden frames above, songs I played plenty from previous moments of my life shuffled, one after the other. The song I fell in love with in Sweden, the one that reminded me of California, and the one I queued every morning during my first year in New York, back when I was still only on my second apartment.

The faces of the friends that defined my time in these places flashed by like a reel of old film. I could feel the passage of time we spent together, and see, just for a moment, the memories we created and left behind in those dates, moving forward along our lives a bit brighter than before. There have been words invented for these feelings - gratitude, joy, nostalgia - but I think the my favorite one is “love”. It means so much to so many people in so many different places. And it arises in ways, things, feelings, and faces we’ll never be able to define. The spiritual warmth grew to a point where it needed a physical release. I let out a deep breath, without realizing I’d breathed in. The words began to form in my head one last time. Would you rather… Fading at the immediate response my mind seemed to fabricate from the glow of burning wax.

There is nothing else I’d rather be than here, with all of you and all of this.