I woke up this morning, this early Summer morning, at 5:21am, with the sun beginning to stream through the tall, thin pines in the forest behind the house. No curtains and festooned with three cats, I felt locked into place; prying eyes inside and out. There were no prying eyes outside; backing up to a forest affords us a certain set of “passes” that the urban dweller just cannot get. The moment my eyes open, the cats, with their keen sense of another’s consciousness, let their growing hunger be known. It was time to “rise and shine.”
I stumbled into the bathroom and get my glasses, herded the cats toward the kitchen with promises of love and kibble, and thought, do I really want to make coffee? The spouse is away and I gazed at the coffee leftovers from yesterday. It’ll do. I’m up, but inherently lazy this morning. I had to write a speech for an upcoming event, send a few emails, and do the morning necessaries. I glanced at the open library, sitting there, begging. I can’t, I thought. I have things to do.
Whenever the spouse is away, I am very quiet. I try to figure out what I want. What music should I play? Bath or shower? Do I want to eat breakfast or just wait for an early lunch? To game or to read? To write or to walk? It seems like it’s a time of exploration, and most of the time I just end up writing. It’s a fallback love. No, it’s a forever love.
I just wrote another blog on walking in someone else’s shoes. What does it mean to try to find empathy? What does it mean when you find it? Does it mean anything? I’m surrounded here by very smart, dynamic, energetic people with large vision and good hearts. I love my community and my chosen family. We don’t always like what each other does but we certainly enjoy who we are when we are with them. We shape each other to be better people. It’s nice to be older and mature enough to slough off the shackles of societal confines and just be…me.
Sometimes, though, even now or maybe especially now, I wonder who “me” is. I don’t want to be anything other than I am, and I am always questioning who I am. No, that’s not right. I’m not questioning it. I’m digging into it. I’m discovering it. I’m testing it. What do I like? What don’t I like? What is good for me and what isn’t? Job, family, friends, food, exercise. There’s a lot to think about and some of it doesn’t need thinking. Some of it just needs being. Some of it shouldn’t even be a question.
Sipping my warmed-up-leftover coffee, I flip through a recent article on global warming. Climate change. I think back to the conversation a group of us recently had on climate change. It was a civil conversation, no name calling, nothing divisive. People stated what they had read about (which was indefinable at best) and what they deduced. It’s difficult to have an opinion on science. Science is, well, science. There were lots of good pieces on why it’s happening and how some of it may *not* be human induced. Some of it may. It’s hard to take all the factors into account. When asked how I thought, I tentatively raised my hand on one side. I wondered if I could have this conversation with all my friends and family. Probably not. I am afraid to be me sometimes in the presence of judgment. I’m not as strong as I appear at times.
We tend to think of the meaning of life in terms of our deaths. How will it be when it all ends for us? What traps did we live in and how do we know what is right, wrong, or the purpose? Should we blindly put our heads down and plunge forward with “work,” or do we have a reason behind our work? Is it important that we know? Will we know once we’re done? Maybe our consciousness will just blend with everything else, and we’ll become part of a mass network of consciousness strung out across the stars. Then, will the meaning of our lives really matter?
When I think back on life, my life in terms of, well, my life, I think about all that I’ve done. It’s thin. There’s a lot of should in my silent, mental vocabulary. There’s a lot of how come I don’t have the energy to do that, or shouldn’t I be better at that now, or why don’t I already have that skill mastered. I feel failure often. I listen to others and think how wonderfully smart they are, how skilled a living, how joyous, how full of energy and ideas. Perhaps I spend far too much time alone. I have a secret thought, sometimes, and that is that I’m not fully baked yet. I’m not done being ready for whatever I’m supposed to be doing. That seems weird but there it is. I’m voicing it for the first time, and maybe the last. So, then, what do I need to do? What is the meaning behind me? And what if I’m wrong?
This all sounds dangerously nihilistic. I don’t think so. I think that we determine our lives, and if we don’t, the circumstances of our existence will. How we lived is our life’s meaning, even if we disregard it as important or even relevant. That is, in the end, we will have lived something and someone will review that something with a critical eye, good or bad, and learn something from it. A friend. A family member. Maybe this is why we have funerals and wakes; they teach us to learn something from everyone. The more people attending, the more education we’ve provided to a thirsty world.
We Americans live in a very thin society; the need to fill ourselves with things, experiences, and feelings. The drive to achieve success, defined by some 94-page magazine or celebrity TV show. The ability to achieve success with a rant and rage on Facebook or create an app to solve a perceived problem. We send money to organizations to do the work we’re unwilling to do – we don’t have time, we’re exhausted from commuting or families, no time for community or fraternity. We are children who get upset that someone took our toys and then move on to the next incident. The strong prey on our inability to focus. We’re an ADHD country. I don’t know what we are as a society but I do know that finding true meaning in all of this is difficult. True community. True work. True progress. These latter are slow, plodding, eventually successful but they take patience. I think it takes fewer of us, too. We can’t make change nationally; we can’t make change by ourselves. Small, concentrated groups make change. It seems we can only make change, and perhaps find meaning, in our smaller communities and states. Therein lies a greater identity. In the small, we find greatness.
I stare out the back window of the house, across the stairs, to the two bird feeders, hanging from iron rods near some trees. I sip my coffee and hug the cat that has climbed up onto my shoulder, and is now purring contentedly. My mind wanders across the view. A squirrel is hanging, upside down, from the feeder, eating happily. A raven, beneath him on the ground, is scooping up the dregs. The sun is bright in the east, above the hills, and creates a crisp view across the dark brown floor of the forest. Nature has no need for meaning; it simply is. Maybe I start there, with my community and family, and just remember that I can just be whatever I am at that moment, and perhaps that is meaning enough.