Life Overflowing

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A Meaningful Life

      Imagine a world without the wind, without leaves or clouds. Can you imagine such a place? It is difficult to take such a proposition seriously because the concept escapes our experience. We take things as commonplace as a sunset and forget that it is entirely possible that it may not have existed at all. What if we were created not to appreciate a flower? Even though we are created with the capacity to see and love beauty, do we take the effort or time to experience any of it? If I never walk through a forest it might as well not exist. Friends sit with their heads bowed toward their phones, unaware of the immense opportunities and joy that could be theirs if they just spoke to another.

October 11th I was in the kitchen frying 2 lbs. of bacon and I missed the best part of the evening. As I turned to wash the pan my eye saw the suns’ rays outside the window. I caught a glance brief enough to ignite my appreciation. So I put my pan down and went outside into the evening. The setting sun in the westward mountains cast light under the clouds, illuminating the atmosphere like a chandelier. The sky was on fire. The west was gold and yellow, the east was pink and red, and between them were deep blue stripes. I let social propriety fly to the wind and ran through the field like I was nine years old. Each blade of grass was distinguishable in its own right–a torch in the twilight. I would have missed it all for bacon. Yes, this was better than bacon.

The cares and pleasures of the world weigh heavily and it is easy to forget that even life itself—apart from the particulars of civilization and culture—is full of meaning. It is time to stop and take stock of life and see that it is full. It overflows. Consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air. Our world is full of useless things that distract from truth and things that are actually important, like our loved ones, our health, and a sunset.

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Human Fanfare

Why do we thrive on drama? Why does the element of uncertainty and excitement, whether it is real or imagined, capture our interest? I believe our humanity keeps us from living truly logical lives, whether we want it or not. I think we want to believe that all we do is totally rational and derived from scientific rigor, that we do nothing out of the human passions that make us who we are and shape the world the way it is. But that is not so. And that is not bad. Many things we do is done not from logic reasoning, by weighing the pros and cons, but because we want to, because we love to. Something done not out of logic, but of the love of something, is more telling, more meaningful, to us as the human race.  That’s why I’m going to use the words logic and drama, because I think those words capture what I want to describe. They’re both human, and they’re not mutually exclusive. We tend to divide life between them, attributing certain events to one or the other.  Logic is what brought about great engineering marvels such as bridges and dams. But it was human drama that precipitated the purpose behind the structures themselves. Why was the Firth of Forth bridged? Somebody wanted to get to the other side. So the bridge envisages not only the enormous logical achievement, but the human drama that brought about such an achievement. In any event, the maths that enabled the construction of the bridge are themselves imbued with the same drama. 

What would life be without drama? Why would men and women marry? Why would they have children? Why would they bury their dead with fanfare? Why would they celebrate occasions of birth, of marriage? If they were completely logical, they would realize that we’re all dead in the long run, so either there’s no point in going over the top, or we might as well party on. But I’m not talking about selfish, shortsighted, drunken abasement. But these are not purely logical notions, but deeply dramatic. The word, like romantic, carries associations of foolishness, quaint notions built not out of reality but wishful dreaming. The implication is that it is the logical, the reality, that one must look to for purpose and lasting meaning. That ultimately may be true, but where would the fun be in that? You may call me dramatic, but these wishful dreams are what make life worth living.

For example, I attended the wedding of a friend less than a day ago. It was, like most weddings, traditional. There was a cake, the bride wore a dress, the groom a tuxedo. Both were surrounded by ceremonial attendants. Each thing in itself meant nothing. The flower girls were really extraneous to the affair. Theories on the original intent of the bride’s bouquet—which make it a purely logical item—mean nothing to us today. An historian, maybe, but who cares? Modern weddings may be a collection of ancient and religious ritual, but to those present it makes no difference. The couple could have become legally married by a state and religious functionary, witnessed by a few close friends, and been done with it. The method has no impact to the meaning in the long or short run, so there’s no quasi-religious or superstitious element involved. But it was deliberately made a dramatic occasion with music, food and drink and costly decorations. The couple was married in the presence of friends and family, who spanned several generations. And they came to wish them the best in life, to see them off to success in a world which can be, in so many ways, a cruel world. But it is a world that can be filled with so many unmerited gifts. The whole affair was almost completely unnecessary, but that was not the point. The point wasn’t logic, it was drama. Those flower girls may have been extraneous, but they were positively adorable.

Crossing the Acheron

I know this is well after December 31st or even January 1st, but this blog didn’t exist then, and to be honest, I want to have a post or two in the archives for it to feel legitimate. So I thank you for your forbearance.

It is always with a certain amount of trepidation that we approach the conclusion of the year, as though we think it might just suddenly end. And it is a concoction of hesitation and enthusiasm with which we enter the new one. In a sense, I suppose one begins each as any should–surrounded by friends and family in a party. If the world were to end at the strike of midnight many of us would find ourselves right where we would want. I think that’s why we stay up until midnight–to ensure ourselves that nothing really changes, even though we know it has. To go to our beds at the usual hour would betray the fact that a whole year has past, which is no important thing in itself or in the scheme of the world. But to us, our own selves, it is considerable: A whole year of life and living.

One brings all the year’s memories with oneself and examines them at the threshold. It is like preparing ourselves for a voyage across the Acheron. We ask ourselves, “what have I gained in the passing year?”, “what have I lost?”, “what will the new year bring?” These questions will inevitably fetch remorse as well as fondness, but it’s these questions which lead us to conclusions, and conclusions which lead to choices of improvement.

It’s these choices that we call resolutions. New Year’s resolutions are an interesting fact of human life. Besides the derision and fun we harbor for them, they tell us a lot about ourselves. Being alive for another year we feel that we may redeem what was lost of ourselves, and reject that which was gained but not loved. And we feel as though we must, lest we not live to see another. We could have done the same during the last year, but we didn’t, we never. And as humans we enjoy imaginative milestones such as the date on the calendar. Usually we make promises to ourselves and to each other, mostly about habits. You see, there’s always room for improvement, we will never be satisfied with ourselves. But we hate to change. So we make demands that we’re not fully prepared to meet, sacrifices we’re never fully ready to make.

But whether these resolutions are kept is actually not the point. The point is that we look within ourselves and find something–a desire, a spark, a little yearning that wants to change. We can’t do that without reflecting on the past, as we are–for better or worse–fashioned by it. It is healthy to ask the question “am I happy with what I have done?” And it is a question we are blessed to be able to ask. We must remember those who never made it, those who crossed the river Acheron with us the year before, and who we expected by our side for the next, but are not. For us who felt that we could command our circumstance, we’re the lucky ones. Many couldn’t, and for them the reflection is different. For them, they can only hope, which is no small thing. And which, in the end, is all any of us can do.