Wednesday, June 22, 2022

"It goes on"

 Periodically, I do think about life and deeper things. Especially in the summer, when I'm alone an awful lot with no one to distract me. The problem is sometimes the "thinking about life and deeper things" turns into gazing into the abyss, or even screaming into the abyss.

Especially now. Especially post-2019, perhaps post-February-2018 (that's when my friend Steve died, and that seems to mark a startling acceleration in people I care about dying). Just recently, the oldest member of my church (101) died, and the minister's wife is sitting at the bedside of her daughter-in-law, who is in hospice*

(*this is a second marriage for both the minister and his wife; their children are children from their first marriages - they both lost their first spouses to death). 

But there are two quotations that I read recently that I'm going to hang on to.

the first, probably more-happily-phrased one, is from Robert Frost - in an interview while he was in his 80s, he was asked if he had learned anything about life, and his response was "It goes on."

This might sound glib, but remember this is a man who lost both parents at a young age, IIRC lost a couple children at young ages, lived through both the World Wars and the Depression....and he was still going, in his 80s (I also seem to remember reading that he spoke at Kennedy's inauguration). I've also read many in his family, including probably him, battled depression. So to hear his response to "what do you know about life" as "it goes on" sounds hopeful to me - and yes, many other poets (including Whitman) have written of how vegetation comes back each spring, the lilacs flower again, etc. 

I know one of the bad thought patterns I've slipped into, partly because of the pandemic and its isolation, I think, is the sense that "things will always be as they are now" - if things are bad now, they will always be bad, and it's hard to get out of that mindset. But also: if things are good, it feels like a shock and an insult when they stop being good. How dare they!

Going out into nature helps. I am going to try to build in a weekday (because less crowded) if it ever gets a bit cooler to go up to Chickasaw this summer (or heck, maybe two) because seeing and hearing the streams and springs flowing, and seeing the vegetation, and walking on the trails, helps. 

I also realize that even though I HAVE lost a lot of people I cared about - yes, life goes on. You change and adapt, you work around the hole that that person left, and you keep going. 

Also the fact that things can change rapidly at times - as I learned this week:

- early last week: didn't think I'd be able to get my roof replaced this summer

- middle last week: had the initial consult with the GC

- Late Monday night: text saying "the guys will come to do your roof tomorrow, the estimate is x"

- finding out Tuesday morning the estimate had to increase because of the missing decking

- the whole thing with the treasury bond and suddenly thinking "I can do all the renovations plus"

- then the finding that most of the back room roof had rotted, so I'm back to "well MAYBE I can get the siding replaced and the kitchen floor fixed, but then have to stop for now" and reminding myself that "stopping for now isn't forever, you can save up more money and do the last less-urgent things later"

- and who knows what today will bring, though I know it will bring me writing the largest personal check I ever have in my life.

The other quotation I read recently is from Camus, and it comes with the caveat that it's worded a lot more strongly than I would. But I've been wrestling with "what does life mean? Why are we here?" recently (again, in light of seeing all the losses). I also know that I err very far on the side of feeling like I have to somehow justify my existence or "earn" my place in the world/right to be loved/whatever and I often feel like I'm only as worthy as my last success, and those successes fade over time - the whole "what have you done for me lately" mentality.

But anyway. What is the meaning of life? Camus suggested: "the literal meaning of life is anything that keeps you from killing yourself" and while yeah, that's pretty bleakly worded it makes sense.

Oh, I'd probably soften it to "the meaning of life is what gets you out of bed in the morning"

And the nice thing about that? There's no wrong answer* to "the meaning of life"

(*Well, there probably is. I would argue that kicking puppies is not a good choice for "meaning of life," or being cruel to other people, etc. But even given the deeply fallen state of our world I suspect people who find a meaning of life in being intentionally cruel are few)

So for some, the meaning of life will be their faith in a higher power. And for others, it might be service. Or family. Or friends. Or art. Or activism.Or caring for their pet. Or hanging out with friends. And it can be different things for different people, and different things for any person at different times in their life. 

And I will openly admit: there have been times, especially over these past three years, where my literal meaning of life was....duty. That I was expected to go and do the thing and that was what got me up out of bed and dressed and out the door in the morning; that other people expected me to do the thing (whether it was teaching, or serving as an Elder, or doing volunteer work I agreed to do....) That's not a very joyful way to do it, but maybe it's a sufficient stopgap until things get better enough that you can again take pleasure in doing the things, and the things themselves and not the sense of obligation to do them becomes important again?

Another thought: maybe if a person feels a lack in their life, they think about "what thing could I add it that would make getting out of bed seem more worth it?" (For me, at this point, that would be more things to do with friends, though making friends locally right now is hard. Maybe someday the "caring for a pet" will be part of the equation, I am just not ready for that yet). And maybe I try to get back more into doing the various crafts I do - I was looking at the quilt that's languished in the frame since pre-pandemic times and thought "I should try to finish that" and then "well, since I will have no money, and I already have the backing and the batting, and I can't think of a longarmed way I want the Road to Jericho quilt quilted, maybe I tackle doing it by hand after I finish the quilt that's in the frame?"

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