On Homesickness. - The second time I went to New England was after a prolonged time in the deep south. My tenure at Louisiana State University had come to a close (relativel...
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Alone vs. Not Alone, or is that even the question?
This is a stretch of land I have taken to taking in a fair amount lately. On this particular Saturday afternoon/evening, the wind blows leaves to the north (to the right); butterflies corkscrew emergency landings; squirrels leap invisible hurdles then turn and exit, seeming to forget what they were after. The sun inches to the west, shadows reacting with their own arc on the field.
All these things take place as I sit with two fingers of Jameson's, taking it all in, an observer trying to make sense of it all. And here's the thing: that swath of existences, this corner of the Universe and the wider Universe writ large--none of it gives a shit. I can sit there or not, it will continue about its business. I can be ecstatic, or I can be wrestling with the deep feeling of being alone, it will remain indifferent. Down to leaves and butterflies and ant hills, or up to dying stars or black holes or comets, whether I am having a good day, a bad day, or whether I am here at all makes no difference.
Let's call that a scientific fact. Now, what I do with that fact, how I react, how I create my life and my worldview given that that is true--that is what life is. That is what my life will be.
That's the first conscious thought of existential ____________ that must have been grappled with going back to ancient people who painted on the walls of cave. That blank is there so you can insert your own word: dread, freedom, trembling, ecstasy, it's all in what that sense of your place in the bigger picture evokes in you.
What I think, how I fit myself into that blank depends completely on when you ask me. I am not a Che Guevara fan by any means, but I think he was right when he wrote, "In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup--in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach."
For the past seven months or so, I have wrestled with the question of whether we are ultimately alone or not alone in this life, on a soul deep level. If you have children or a spouse, it is easy to say not alone, you are surrounded by people you love and who love you. And that's true. Truth is what you know in your heart and soul. Or maybe that's faith. But stay with me. I watch our 12 year old wrestle with that alienated feeling, as 12 year olds will, because I watch and remember it fully, that no one else in the world understands them. And that is valid for their life experience. Nothing I can say can convince her that I went through what she is going through, and in earnest, I didn't, I am a guy, she is a girl, I was in 7th grade 30 years ago and life was different. This is her experience.
But who or what can bridge that gap that takes us from alone to not alone? It's wrapped into the same realization that the Universe doesn't need me; that life goes on regardless. Some people's perception of God crosses that void. For some it is love, probably with a "L." For some, it is our interconnectedness to creation, that we will return to the earth and our corporeal ingredients will be recycled back into the soil. For some it is art, and being able to live on in memories maybe.
I haven't figured it out. Sometimes I feel like Tony Hoagland, who wrote:
At this state in the journey
I would estimate the distance
between myself and my feelings
is roughly the same as the mileage
from Seattle to New York.
I don't have an answer. I'm not sure I will, but I am fairly sure that it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things whether I find out or not. Here is another Hoagland-ism from the same poem, "Self-Improvement:"
Often we ask ourselves
to make absolute sense
out of what just happens,
and in this way, what we are practicing
which everybody practices,
but strangely few of us
grow graceful in.
To grow graceful. To rail against. To acquiesce. To rebel against. To delve. To try to understand. To make peace with. What we come up with, our own answer, is our life.