Tuesday, March 04, 2014
As I settle somewhat comfortably into my sixties, I find myself looking back at the course my life has taken, as we all do when approaching that “certain age,” when it occurs to us that our yesterdays far outnumber our tomorrows. Wondering at the choices we made during those decades that went by so quickly. Wondering whether ours has been a life worth living, and whether we left anything of value behind. And weighing the value of regret.
I have to recognize that I won’t be leaving much of intrinsic material value for my loved ones, and I suppose I do feel some pangs of remorse over that. But the people I love will do just fine without any windfall from me. My children are grown and, I hope, happy. They carry the weight of the same worries we’ve all had; will I earn enough to support the lifestyle I choose? Will the people I love stay with me, even when I make doing so difficult for them? Will my having lived really matter to anyone? Will anyone care about me after I’m gone?
The first question notwithstanding, I know that nothing I have done or could do is capable of providing answers to their questions, any more than anyone else could have provided the same answers to me. Truth is, we cannot really know the answers to any of those questions. Perhaps we aren’t supposed to know the answers after all. Perhaps the old monk who once taught me – saved me, actually – was right when he told me that knowing the answers wasn’t nearly as important as loving the questions. Because by loving the questions themselves, we move ourselves a bit closer to living the kind of life that brings about the answers for which we hope.
I look back at some of the decisions I’ve made, and realize that many of them were borne of a decision to “screw it,” and follow a course whose destination was a mystery to me, but which I truly believed would be the best for which I could hope.
Working to heal others until I realized that true healing is an inside job.
Donning the mantel of corporate uprightness and drive, then casting it aside.
Trying to give my kids the sense of acceptance I never had in my own childhood. And not always being successful (or even particularly intelligent) in my efforts.
Choosing, on several different occasions, to give away, sell, or discard the “things” I had accumulated, just to provide me with the opportunity to do something different.
Allowing myself a time or two to plunge so deeply into love that I ignored everything but that love, and ultimately finding myself more alone in another’s company than I had ever been in my times of solitude, I learned that the only thing that really mattered was the love itself. And that my biggest challenge was to hold to the sweetness of that love, while letting go of the creeping bitterness I felt at realizing that the other person might not have held the same dream as I. Or to recognize that love was there all along, and I was just too blind to see it.
I’ve succeeded in some ways, and failed miserably at others. I take real pride in having been “redirected” in my quest for the ministry because I was “too laid back” (the official determination of those charged with allowing me to proceed) for even the most laid back of religions. If ever there was a clear indication that my heart was in Zen, that redirection must surely have been it.
I’m glad I got the opportunity to write a bunch of books, even if they were for other people. It was a fun exercise, even if I did find myself cursing at times. Some of the other things I did – things that mattered greatly at the time – were probably most significant in having been done and gotten out of the way, so I could get a little closer to the path I really wanted and think I was supposed to follow. But perhaps that could be said about everything I’ve ever done. As to whether the "path" I chose at any given time was what I was "supposed" to do, I have no clue.
I didn’t get rich, but that was never my intent, anyway. An occasional fantasy, perhaps, but if I had achieved it, I suspect I would have screwed it up. Or gotten even further distracted from what was really important to me. If it happened today, who knows what I’d do with it. Buy a motorcycle, perhaps. Travel to the Greek Islands. If my pattern held true, I’d probably give a lot of it away, to people (many with four legs) for whom it was more important than it is to me. Either that, or blow it on the biggest “screw it” of my life. No way of telling, really. I recognize that there were times when I needed something I couldn't provide, and that there were kind people who came forward to fill that need. I hope that I have repaid their kindness once in awhile, albeit to occasionally lend a hand to others at need.
As it is, I don’t have the cushion of a savings account or investments that would allow me to simply coast through whatever years, months, or moments I might have left on this journey. But I don’t feel particularly concerned about that, because coasting would be, to me, a profound waste, a surrender to cynicism, and a fate far worse than death.
Actually, many things seem to be a fate worse than death. It’s just another step on my journey, after all. Nobody gets out alive. And it is really no greater mystery than any of the other steps I’ve taken. Just another “screw it” that gives rise to another part of the journey. No more significant than a single breath in the greater scheme of things (If there is, indeed, a greater scheme). And as I take that step, I suspect it won’t really matter to me how all those great questions are answered. Some folks will remember me with a smile, others with a scowl. Some will feel anger in their hearts for my having somehow failed them. But I will not feel that anger. Perhaps I’ll see it from wherever I go, and feel compassion for them. Perhaps I’ll laugh at the folly of blaming another for anything at all. Perhaps I’ll speak to them in their dreams, and attempt to comfort them in a way I could not do in life. Or maybe, just maybe, when I no longer drive this earthly vehicle, I simply won’t “be” any longer. If that’s the case, the only thing that will have mattered was what I held in my heart as I released my last breath. I think that if I’ve done things right, that last breath will come on the tail end of a laugh, and perhaps be followed by one last, resounding fart, so that the people around me will have reason to share that laugh with me.
If I’ve done everything right (which I will most certainly not have done), they will look at each other, say “screw it,” and go get a pizza. They can talk about my quirks, my failures, my triumphs, or about everything else in their lives but me. I’m good with any of these.
I do hope to carry with me the tenderness that a few people might have felt for me, despite my quirks. But even that won’t really matter that much. I’ll be somewhere else, likely saying “screw it,” and heading of in a wholly different direction than even I had considered. I have lots more mistakes to make, and far too many questions to love. And however much time I have left will not be spent preparing for something that is beyond my control, anyway. I’m just not there yet.