We’ve all felt it; trapped then freed, captured then escaped, stymied then, etc. Sometimes life feels like a toned-down version of Terry Gilliam’s classic motion picture Brazil. To be more specific, living can at times take on the feel of the film’s ending sequence. Everything is okay. Then things are not okay. Suddenly, everything is going to be okay again. Then, not so much. The magnitude of fluctuation between a crest and a trough in life may vary significantly based on the intensity of the slope. However, the fall, no matter how mild is rarely the fun part.
If the aforementioned film has not yet made your dystopian playlist consider it recommended. It is of course wildly extreme, but beautifully so. Spoiler alert! The lead character finds himself suddenly yanked from his normally endurable though sometimes annoyingly monotonous life to be thrust into a chaotic, absurd, yet most serious battle for survival. He is rescued, then captured. Then freed, then retaken. Then…sound familiar?
We are all beholden to fate, or “destiny” for those who prefer a more anointed perspective. Puppetmaster or no we are in fact attached to those around us and the six degrees of separation that come with them. This is true of even those we have not met, yet. We are, of course, also bound to our environment and its whims. For those of you who welcome surprise of any kind, whether it dons the costume of angel or devil, well done you. Not everyone, however, is eager for darkness just because they’ve glimpsed the sun.
Life choices are powerful. They give us the ability to create opportunities, seemingly self-directed outcomes and of course repercussions. Choices, however, do not always rule the day. Chance it seems is the real prime mover. Chance, luck, randomness, are there making life happen while we make plans. During the early years of one’s journey, the changes in circumstantial altitude seem so vast, exaggerated by lack of experience, and therefore perspective. Later we most often come to understand that no matter how steep the pitch we face there is at least a chance that things will level out, then climb again. That alone makes every turn of fate more manageable.
Experience is the ultimate instructor. We don’t all learn the lessons, but at least we are forced simply by virtue of existing to do the work. One of the most significant benefits of living long enough to look back is the gift of beginning to understanding the ebb and flow of things, and by association be able to believe in the possibility of a happy ending. To that point, containment, happiness, victory, or deliverance may be in our future, and may even define the ending of Brazil.
I’ve heard it said that “life imitates art.” Times being what they are, with cinematic tools in the pockets of nearly every breathing soul, it appears that art or at least the cultural obsession with captured visual representations of some form of it now shape life. The advent of the personal documentary, whether we acquire imagery while looking through the lens or turn it on ourselves does not allow for life to unfold as it would in the absence of the distraction, or opportunity, or perhaps most importantly self-consciousness.
Personal marketing is ubiquitous. Social media and crowdsourced opinion are the new forms of connection, interpretation, and validation. This validity is assumed based on ‘homegrown’ legitimacy in contrast to traditional marketing and advertising which is widely presumed to be manipulative in nature. Are they really so different? We now package ourselves, consciously or unconsciously as products. To the best of our ability, we remove blemishes and imperfections before posting. Flaws and imperfection that exist, endure, and with time increase in scope.
I don’t post the nine unflattering shots of my family, the ones where someone made a face or blinked. I especially don’t post the pix that highlight that one crooked front tooth that’s always trying to get in the shot. I post the tenth pic where I don’t look like I need emergency adult orthodontia and my sons don’t look like they are recovering from blunt force trauma to the head. Am I posting a lie, or am I simply a savvy marketing wiz?
Our flaws can be perceived as components of character, unwelcome sidekicks or both. All the botox and plastic surgery in the world won’t fix the ones that truly define us. Our enduring flaws are the ones that we reveal, or that force their way into the limelight once the honeymoon has ended. Can those we’ve lured in with our polished documentary stylings live with them? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Documentary films are sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Some are important, some life-changing, some difficult to watch for the brutal truths they reveal about human nature. Some are fluff, some sweet, and many fall short of their intended effect. These outcomes are of course in no small way co-created by the viewer. So it is with our individual forays into self-serving cinema. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, so it goes.
Personal Documentaries are here to stay. A scroll session through Facebook, Instagram, etc. can light up the brain neurons like eating a quart of Death By Chocolate ice cream, minus the calories. These shared stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes provocative. Personally, I enjoy the voyeuristic distraction of it all and participate regularly. However, as I upload virtual interpretations of my life and/or witness the lives of others across the ether, I often wonder if the real art of looking another human being in the eye and making a connection in the moment may be the horse-drawn carriage faced with the imminent rise of the motorcar.
The rains came at the end of December and have since called this place home.It is not the countryside, rather a despondency that blooms in the midst of this cold winter downpour. Those in the parts of the world where such weather is commonplace probably bare it away silently, knowing year after year that such is their fate. Here in southern North America, this bleak, relentless drenching has transformed myriad normal men and women into so many agitated, forlorn creatures.
The wearing down of the spirit by natural means such as continuous dark, damp days is in no way sinister.In that light, this indifferent water torture shows a modicum of kindness. The spirit breaking inventions used by one human on another cut more profoundly, with much greater precision. Cruelty is intentional, and therefore personal. Such malevolent behavior, like the weather, is sometimes predictable, sometimes not.
Confronting darkness in any form, be it natural or man-made presents each of us with the opportunity to choose a response.With rare exception, we can decide whether to reflect or reject the shadows cast upon us.Reacting on impulse is natural, but void of the benefit of circumspection.Stepping back, taking stock, digging deep and choosing a way forward that lies outside readily ostensible options, a path that leads us back to the light, that is the work of living.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Days can lose their given names when one has no particular thing that must be done or no particular place to be.Every day can be a Saturday or any day for that matter.Lester McClain had managed to put himself in a position where the names of days had little relevance.He had been unlucky in love, a story for a later time, but lucky in the realm of finance and so he had opted for an early escape from the American grind.
Overlooking his remaining days from a fiscally secure vantage point, Les had decided to liquidate most of his holdings and deposited the substantial proceeds into a low-risk mutual fund.He then sold most of his possessions, keeping only what he could fit in his silver 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and moved from San Francisco to Lee Vining California to take up a quiet life in the mountains.The ghosts and demons that followed him were unwelcome, so as most of us do he relegated them to the dungeon of his mind and went about his life as though they had never existed.
For several years now his routine had been simple, probably deathly dull to most, but mostly satisfying to him.Hike, fish, read, avoid dealing with any personal issues, hike some more, have a drink or three in the evening, sleep, repeat.That much time alone will make a man his own best friend, trusted confidant, or his own worst enemy.And so it was the case that Lester McClain had the habit of talking to himself out loud on a regular basis.
Les sat up blurry eyed on the old brown leather sofa opposite the kitchenette in his tiny cabin.The summer sun had demanded his attention at 5:30am.At that unreasonably early hour, his reluctant body rose to the ritual calling of his morning routine.
“I need some fucking curtains!” he muttered to himself.
Cold, fucking cold, water splashed on his face, mostly to force the eyes into focus. That focus revealed bloodshot blue eyes with a faint ring or yellow around the iris, greying, unkempt blond hair falling in tangles to his collar and a three-day beard. Having finished the unpleasantry of cold water coupled with a mirror prior to 6am Lester commenced a staggerer’s walk toward the kitchen to start the coffee.As he sat on the sofa waiting for the percolation to complete, he found himself regretting that last glass of bourbon, five drinks were not his custom.
“Nice to see you?” he remembered. “Who was that…guy?”Les had, by his own choice embraced a life a relative solitude.He had not, to his recollection, ever met this Shash who joined him last night at the bar, yet the giant had seemed to know him.“Ugh,” he thought, “I need coffee.”He made his way back across the spartan cabin floor, smooth worn pine boards seamed loosely to allow for the breathing of the seasons, to the kitchen counter and poured a tall cup of deep black waking.His hand rested on the chipped white tile countertop as he took a deep, tongue scalding gulp.“Ahh!”
The Land Cruiser engine roared, 6:15am time to be somewhere that was not here.“What day is it?” He thought.“Ah, does it matter? Nope.”He said to the steering wheel.He guided the shift lever into reverse and backed down the driveway.The sound of off-road tires on the gravel had become music to Les; the soundtrack to his comings and goings.
As he drove toward the Narrow Canyon, he remembered the bear.It had appeared way up river as he hooked the last of his three trout the day before.As he worked the line, he had seen out of the corner of his eye the massive shape of an upright full-grown Grizzly bear.He reeled the large rainbow hard but not so hard as to break the line then let it run a bit under the deep bend of the graphite rod, keeping an eye on the fish, using his peripheral vision to monitor on the bear.Les had seen bears before on the river and did not take such encounters lightly.As the fish fought for its freedom, the bear seemed only to watch.Les’ mind wandered to the holstered Browning .45 on his right hip.So fixated did his thoughts become on the gun and bear that he almost lost the fish.
When the fish finally surrendered, he looked directly at the bear.The bear too seemed finished and stepped away from the river, vanishing behind a stand of pines.Les netted the fish and turned downstream.He creek hopped thirty yards or so in the direction of the Land Cruiser then turned to scan for his possible pursuer.Nothing but water, stone, forest, and sky.He took the fish from the net and quickly ran his knife through to end it’s suffering.
“I’m sorry I made you wait” he whispered to the now at peace fish.“Thank you for the gift of your sustenance.”
Les checked again for the bear, no trace.He placed the third rainbow in his creel, secured his fly to the rod anchor and made for the safety of his truck.
Les, not being a superstitious man had not attributed anything to the incident with the bear other than a man and a bear happening by chance to be at the same place at the same time.Following that logic he decided while driving to change course, abandoning Narrow Canyon for a morning at McGee Creek.“No need to go where the bear is fishing,” he said to the dashboard, averting his eyes from the blazing morning sun that careened down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.The Cruiser slowed to a stop at a small parking turnout adjacent to McGee.Les turned the key and was about to pull it from the ignition when he saw it,the bear.A huge Grizzly bear was sitting by the river, pensively watching the water play across the rocks. As he watched, stunned, the bear looked up. Les thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile on its face.
Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out. Other times things feel so fucked! Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go. Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan. You’ve had a bad day right? You’ve had some good ones too? I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness. It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain. It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.
Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking. We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point. We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness. I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way. Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment. History tells me it will pass. And thank god! A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine. Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith. Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!” The “It” that binds us all together in this life.
How are your dark days? Mine are daunting. Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude. Afraid that I will fail those I love. Worried that I will fail me! Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former? How will I fail? By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?
Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape. For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with. Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard. I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression. The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.
It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?” Who has time for the real answer right? To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks. You?” Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA. Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with! Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe. Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.
Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield. Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk. As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy. I bring this up because his words struck me hard. Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer. Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep. Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again. This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room. Futon? What am I, a college student? Whatever!
Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply. It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight. The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish. Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism. It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles. Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.” The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.
If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden. You have options. Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below. Write a comment. Please share your story. Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness. Together we can create brilliance!
A salesman came to the door yesterday.I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock. We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.Think he was checking the state of his breath.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.
“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”
“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.
“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”he said with unwavering confidence.
“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.
“May I come in?”
“I suppose,” I said.My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.
“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties.
“And how would you like to be called?”
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Your name?” He nodded.
“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”
“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.
I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard.
“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”
“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”
“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.“Will Earl Grey do?”
“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.
I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’What had I gotten myself into?
As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”“Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”
I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.
“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.
“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.
“I see,” I said.“And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.
“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.
I stared at him.No words formed.
“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”He offered,“In short supply and little known on the open market.”
My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”
“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”He asked.
“Do what all over again?”I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.Which for me is saying something.
“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.
“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.
He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.“I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.
“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.
“Very simply actually.You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”
I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.
“Poof!” I stammered.“What exactly do you mean by poof?”
“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.
“What about this life?” I thought to myself.“I love this life.”I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.
“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?How the hell would that work and why should it?More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.
“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.“I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.Please take a moment to sit with it.May I refill my tea?The kitchen is just through there yes?”
I nodded.Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.Not my habit.
“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!
Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?Was it a test?I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.I sipped the now cold coffee.
There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate. Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?And there was the answer.Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.
“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”
“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”
“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected
“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”I said with a new found smile.
“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.
“Yes,” I said.“I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity. An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.
“I see,” he said.“Understood, understood.Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”He asked.
“Yes, I am,” I said.Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.
“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”I offered.
“Have I?” He smiled.“Excellent!”He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.
The living room of an old person’s home has a thing about it.“Their thing,” to be precise.Such a place usually has a particular feel, scent, dust/grime quotient, and a frozen in time quality, that is both haunting and intriguing.
The carpet, the furniture, and the wallpaper all have born witness to the arc of a life or lives that have gone from actively growing, reaching, and achieving to stillness, passivity, unwitting disengagement, and ultimately decay.Once the occupants of this place were counted in the numbers of an up and coming vanguard generation.The status quo creaked and groaned under the pressure of the change they demanded, finally acquiescing as a new world was forged by the sheer force of their will.So it is with each generation.Cliche warning: change is the only constant, until it’s not.
“Dad jokes,” ha!The beginning of generational culture division is humorously summarized in those two simple words.Dad jokes are the harbinger of connectivity obsolescence which makes them extra funny, or morbidly awkward.Take your pick.
Getting older is a foregone conclusion, getting wiser is not.Dad jokes are optional. An aging generation can opt for continuing education, the conscious act of learning about and remaining connected to the next generation, or not.These options bear the seeds of individual cultural choice that if not planted wisely may well find their harvest in the living room of an old person’s home.
I’m not saying that redecorating is the key to staying relevant.Of course, such endeavors require the allocation of resources that may or may not be in short supply depending on personal circumstance.Following trends and continually updating one’s position in this world is a slippery slope to be sure.The justification for such efforts is inextricably tied to the end goal.What can we expect a quest for relevance to yield?
Social evolution is historically proven, factually undeniable.To remain relevant one must acknowledge, embrace and act in accordance with the principles lifting that wave.Here we are confronted with the specter of “Identity.”The crescendo of identity formation is represented by the metaphorical “brand new living room” conceived and actualized at the pinnacle of a life where we make our victorious statement, whether we realize it or not.“We’ve arrived,” and here’s the interior design masterpiece to prove it; insert modernist decor, steampunk accoutrements, colonial, mid-century or whatever statement seems fitting to illustrate the reaching of one’s personal triumph at the perceived summit of their material journey.This perch is a victory that in its very achievement can, if we are not vigilant, become a living tomb.An apex reached may by definition offer only descent as a next step.That’s where choice, and particularly choosing to step outside the box becomes an engaging, challenging, potentially life-affirming if ego-threatening moment, and at best, a most welcome alternative to programmed obsolescence.
I’m not suggesting that we don the sailor outfit our mother’s had us wear for our four-year-old portrait, or the nightmare ruffled pastel leisure suit style tuxedo we wore to the prom a thousand years ago.I am however suggesting that resting on accomplishments of any kind leads to the possibility of disconnection from the inevitable; from tomorrow, the day after, and so on. Retaining accrued wisdom while remaining open to fresh, if potentially identity challenging perspectives means we still get to be ourselves, but in liquid rather than solid form, metaphorically speaking.
Being relevant is not an inalienable human right.Being relevant is a quest that requires constant attention, adjustment, acceptance of that we do not yet fully understand, and most importantly the willingness to allow for the possibility that identity is ephemeral.In the game of relevance, personal commitment to evolution is the only winning strategy.Identity, if not fluid, becomes the anchor that prevents us from riding the wave of social metamorphosis.The real kicker is that our identity issues have the superpower of invisibility as it relates to our ability to honestly see ourselves as others see us.Ugh!
If I find myself in the weeks leading up to my death stripping wallpaper, tearing up carpet, and fondling paint samples, it will be no more than a physical manifestation of my desire to understand the current consciousness of my children’s or my children’s children’s world.My last valiant effort to understand and assimilate the language, challenges, and opportunities that are continuously spawning in perpetuity outside the soul prison walls of the living room of an old person’s home.
The wooden window frame creaks gently at the caress of the breeze. Dew drops tremble on the laden blades of grass running from the mailbox to the front steps. Sunglow shines at the edge of the world, kissing the brickwork of the sleepy cottage, built long ago for someone’s profit, filled this day mostly with love. In the kitchen, the faintest click signals the release of water, soon to be steam, then to become the rich black elixir that she loves with just a dash of cream.
As always the alarm is set but unneeded. Her long lashes flutter open to the glow of this new day. Most mornings her first thoughts are steeped in gratitude…for all of it. For her life, her child, her present moment, and still with some difficulty she embraces and acknowledges her gratitude for the past. Every day has lead to this moment, the aroma of coffee, the faint light filling the skylights, the peace that once seemed a phantom now seems a life.
“Yes, my darling one.”
“Can I have some coffee?” Her son Jonah asks.
“Certainly, but no sugar please.”
“Joey, have you noticed what an amazing gift this morning is?”
“Yes mom, I said my gratitudes,” his words wander naturally down this well-worn path.
“Excellent! I love you!”
“Love you too.”
Three paintings hang on the wall, across the room from her king size bed. The painting on the left is of an intricately patterned caterpillar making its way across a birch branch in what looks to be late Summer. The next is of a delicate chrysalis suspended from a similar branch in the Fall. The painting on the right is of a magnificent butterfly taking wing in the Spring. So it goes that not every day has been this day, full of comfort, and love. But today, a few before, and many after will be very much like this one.
Discomfort, I’ve heard tell, is the price of admission to a meaningful life. Knowing the Butterfly Girl’s story, I believe that to be true.
Have thoughts on the subject? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!
Oh, millennials, how you see things for what they appear to be…to you! The exact exchange went something like this.
Millennial: “Aren’t you too old to wear a Fireball Whiskey T-shirt? As they say, If you’re old enough to buy Fireball, you’re too old to drink Fireball.”
Good point though in some respects. That cinnamon-laced antifreeze is probably not a good nutritional choice at any age. What struck me as funny was that until that moment ageism had gone missing in my world. I, no longer being concerned with “fitting in” in the same way that most of us were so obsessed with in high school, didn’t register the ‘age issue’ as it related to “the shirt.” Whatever…really, again with the “whatever?” Joking aside, the reality of the conversation ran deeper than cotton. People divide the value of another individual’s input into categories. If you’re too old, or too young, too Red or too Blue, to this ethnic background or too that, male or female, you may not be able to connect with an alternate demographic. To that, I say…maybe.
Seems to me that we as humans have the option to transcend all manner of barriers; be they related to race, socio-economic status, age, gender, etc. The question is, will we? If we are willing to open our minds to the circumstances of others can we not then remain pertinent and more importantly in ‘learning mode’ until the day we clock out? Even if those with whom we attempt to connect are as yet unable to open their minds to our way of thinking? I’d like to think so.
Pre-industrial revolution cultures valued the accumulation of wisdom. Hence the term “wise men…and women.” That wisdom was acquired most commonly by those who had lived long enough, and processed enough life experience to know more than the average sixteen-year-old. Nowadays said sixteen-year-old can web surf their way to information over the course of a summer that would have formerly taken a lifetime to gather. Knowledge is power…but is it wisdom?
Back to the ‘Fireball Whiskey T-shirt.” Yes, I get that the shirt is a marketing tool used by the creators of said elixir, but I really liked the art on the “T” so I bought it. A fire-breathing lion-ish creature in a majestic, upright pose appealed to me at the moment. Art, be it’s simple, or rich in complexity is just that…art. All art is timeless if we, the viewers allow ourselves to join in the concept of timelessness. We don’t have to love it. We can even hate it. Either way, we can choose to allow it. We can choose to coexist with it without feeling threatened.
I started going grey around the time of my fortieth birthday. As a lifetime wannabe rock star that did not sit well. Enter my hair salon phase. As a fortieth birthday self-gifting experiment I saloned up and had my hair dyed. I liked it! So much so that I continued the practice for over a decade. I didn’t want to be judged by my age; not by peers, not by clients, not by me. Of course, I realize that my reaction is unique and that everyone else wants to become and, more importantly, look older…ha! Age is wisdom after all so who doesn’t want to look wise right?
Nowadays I have let nature take its course with my physical being. Long silver hair spills over my shoulders and as a result, I garner an equal dose of both disapproving looks, and comments along the lines of “I love your hair, do you hear that a lot?” I do. But I’ve also heard from colleagues, “Hey, have you ever thought about cutting your hair man” and/or aren’t you too old to be wearing that shirt?” Whatever, part three!
With any luck, you find being yourself fun. I know I do. With the end game in mind, I no longer concern myself with being accessed from afar. I know that within a few minutes of conversation, value can be transmitted, established, and solidified. It’s conversation, honest interaction, that allows a person’s value to be understood. It is connection, human, face to face, that creates the opportunity for transcendence. It’s the combined powers of wisdom and patience that allow any ‘shirt’ to bear no weight in the outcome of one’s ability to bring gifts to the world. Going softly into that dark night… in my opinion is a “no.” “Roar till the end like the lion guy on my T-shirt,” say I.
So I’ll wear that dumb shirt, not cut the hair, give at every opportunity and smile on my way out! Oh millennials, how our conversations will be different a decade or two from now; when life has had it’s way with you. And so, with a grin, I raise a shot of fireball to you all while wishing you the absolute best of times!