Chronicles in Ordinary Time 58: The Examined Life

valley of the shadow_crop

Yesterday, I thought I’d seen it all
I thought I’d climbed the highest wall
Now I see the learning never ends
And all I know to do is keep on walking
Walking ’round the bend singing

Why, why, why
Does it go this way
And why, why, why
And all I can say

Is somewhere down the road
There’ll be answers to the questions
And somewhere down the road
Tho’ we cannot see it now

Somewhere down the road
You will find mighty arms reaching for you
And they will hold the answers
At the end of the road

Oh, keep on walking

Somewhere Down the Road Amy Grant, Wayne Kirkpatrick

“Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.”

Plato, Apology

Possibly the one advantage to living with pain for several decades is that it has given me a lot of time for examining my life. When all one can do is get horizontal in the dark, and hope that whatever method of pain relief one is using will kick in soon, one has a lot of time to think… I’ve spent a lot of time examining my life, and I have decided to cultivate faith in things that many people are unable to see; ideas they can’t understand.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I can’t fix people. The most that I can do is provide an environment where ‘fixing’ can occur, if someone is inclined to becoming ‘fixed’. Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of being broken. I think there are probably a lot of house pets that would object to the concept that the trip to the veterinarian ‘fixed’ something that wasn’t broken. It was merely inconvenient. ‘Fixing’ a human is far more complicated than some minor surgery.

I started realizing that the world is really messed up while I was in high school. High School, particularly an all-male high school in the sixties, was so different from high school today. At a guy’s high school in the sixties, if a food fight developed in the cafeteria, a coach simply went up to one of his players throwing food, and decked him. End of food fight. No counseling, no lawyers, no fuss. There were switchblades in my high school, and chemistry students making explosives [contact explosive on the legs of the teacher’s desk, which went off when the teacher slammed his briefcase onto his desk—probably the last time he ever did that to get his class’s attention].

During my senior year, I started reading stuff I never would have thought to read, and had to start writing essays on “Appearance vs. Reality as Demonstrated in Kafka and Camus.” I was also introduced to transcendence, in the form of “The Man of La Mancha”:

“I shall impersonate a man. His name is Alonso Quijana, a country squire no longer young. Being retired, he has much time for books. He studies them from morn till night and often through the night and morn again, and all he reads oppresses him; fills him with indignation at man’s murderous ways toward man. He ponders the problem of how to make better a world where evil brings profit and virtue none at all; where fraud and deceit are mingled with truth and sincerity. He broods and broods and broods and broods and finally his brains dry up. He lays down the melancholy burden of sanity and conceives the strangest project ever imagined – -to become a knight-errant, and sally forth into the world in search of adventures; to mount a crusade; to raise up the weak and those in need. No longer will he be plain Alonso Quijana, but a dauntless knight known as Don Quixote de La Mancha.”
“I’ve been a soldier and a slave. I’ve seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I’ve held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning “Why?” I don’t think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams – -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all – -to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Being mostly a geek through my childhood and high school, my behavior stayed within certain boundaries because life worked better within those boundaries. In college, I learned that there really aren’t any boundaries. By the end of my sophomore year, I spent a lot of time in depression—like Senor Quihana, my brains began to ‘dry up’ as I witnessed man’s inhumanity to man in Vietnam, and in Chicago, and at Kent State… “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams–this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all-–to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

During my third year, at a different college, I discovered my Creator; and I learned that the idea of ‘life as it should be’ wasn’t simply some sort of behavior that my parents had tried to instill in me. One can instill behavior in another person, either in a positive way, or by coercion. To discover a way of living life that transcended behavior, and for me, was the beginning of a journey on ‘the road less traveled’. The vast majority seek a different road.

There are two people in my life who I wish I could help. “Help” in this context means to see life through my perspective. Seeing life through my eyes would not ‘fix’ them; their bodies betray them in ways that are similar to my 30+ years of pain. I’d like them to know that there is a reserve. That no matter how many times they find themselves stumbling on their paths, no matter how many wolves are waiting in the wings, Goodness and Mercy are always following them, protecting their souls. I believe their souls are protected, even if they don’t believe they have souls. Somewhere down the road, they will learn this. In the span of Eternity, our lives here, no matter how broken, are like the blink of an eye. We are as eternal as the stardust from which we are created.

Created. Such a strange concept in today’s scientific world. We learn so much and the learning costs us perspective. The explanations imply that we are machines of some sort, with predictable outcomes. We grow from the joining of two microscopic cells, in much the same manner as all life on this planet exists. Because we are grown, rather than manufactured, there are flaws; there are limitations. I believe that enough generations have passed to cause more flaws to occur. There has been enough contamination to the original strains that more of us are susceptible to breakage; more of us that experience life as it was not intended to be. Bad design? Perhaps. Perhaps it is simply that the raw materials are so fallible. And we are taught that life can be guaranteed. It can only be guaranteed to bring trouble.


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