Heads up: I go down a bit philosophical in this post. If too much thinking hurts your brain, then I kind of envy you you might want to skip this one. I’ll be back to my usual light-heartedness soon. But if you like diving into the depths of questionings on the meaning of life, then enjoy and welcome to the fun of my mind. 🙂
Right now – I want it all.
And I want it now.
But I can’t. I can’t have it all. I always knew this and I always know this and I always will know this.
I remember a distinct moment, in my early 20s, sitting in a bookstore as a fresh faced new transplant to L.A. Soaking it all in. The books, the knowledge they contained, they wonderment of being alive, of being able to think and ponder and discover. Lungs swelling, inhaling, absorbing the potential of it all.
And even yet…
In the exhale of that very same breath: the realization of the cursed duality of it all, that – for all the universe’s vastness of knowledge available for one to obtain – that I could never know, have time to learn, experience, or understand but a tiny fragment of all that was. My blessing a curse and my curse a blessing.
There was a time in my college years where I went through a rather philosophical period of questioning life’s deepest meanings. In and out of itself, this is not a particularly abnormal experience for this age, however, worth nothing is that my college years were spent within a community of people who largely held similar beliefs as everyone else around them. What’s also worth noting is though many of the peers I’ve met since moving to L.A. have criticized this homogeneity – that most people everywhere grew up with similar beliefs as those with whom they closely interacted. So even with all these different worldviews, how does one objectively approach the great questions of the world?
In all this grand philosophizing, the thing I struggled with most was the question of where my wonderings should eventually lead me. What was the purpose in all my thinking? What practical gain could come from it? I remember meeting with an esteemed theology professor my senior year of college and posing this question to him:
“As I’m about to embark on the real world after graduation, what is it that should I strive for most in life:
I remember feeling as though I’d caught the professor off-guard in a question with no answer. Apparently this was not a question most students asked of him I guess? It felt as though he didn’t know what he should say.
He responded that I’d asked a good question. That he thought a person should strive for both. That the attainment of one could go hand in hand with the other; that a person could have both knowledge and contentment.
I said ok, thanked him for his time, and then went about my day. Though I’m sure the professor meant well and answered the best he knew how when put on the spot, his response still felt like a cop-out to me. Discouraged that there’d be no easy answer, I brushed the entire quandary to the back of my mind, left alone to quietly remain – and still remain even now – unanswered.
Knowledge? Or contentment? What is better to seek in our rapidly fleeting lives? Can one truly seek both concurrently, as my professor had claimed? Or, as it seems to me, are they exclusive pursuits? Must one be discarded on the path to the other?
Can a certain level of knowledge eventually produce contentment? Or is contentment only possible in the willing absence of total knowledge?
A paradox. To be one thing or not to be the other. That is the question.
Oh, that age old question. There since the beginning of time, all the way back to that very first tree in that very first garden.
To take or not to take. To constantly seek more or to remain content with what I have.
This is the question I’m still asking myself.
A month ago or so, a facebook friend’s status posed an ethical/philosophical question. Feeling ballsy in that particular moment, I decided to partake in conversation. I didn’t have time for a drawn-out exchange, but the basic gist of the thread was the exploration of the ultimate question of meaning.
Why do we daily choose life over death?
Why do the vast majority of us choose to stay alive, every day, and why do we defend our right to have life with such instinctual fierceness?
During this brief facebook exchange, the memory of a question back from my college philosophy days popped into my head. “Why not suicide?” Hadn’t someone had once said this was the only true question of philosophy? Camus, maybe?
So I looked it up. And sure enough, it was Albert Camus, discussed in his book The Myth of Sisyphus.
Hmm, I thought. The title sounded familiar, vaguely reminiscent of those long lost days in my younger years when I had the time and mindspace to think deeply about deep things. Hmm….I might actually have this book tucked away somewhere.
I went to my bookcase. And there it was. How it’s lasted there, for over a decade, through several moves, unread and never thrown out or sold in a garage sale, I have no idea. But there it was. Purchased from the Johannesburg International Airport for 78 Rand, during another deep-thinking period of my life while I was traveling the world working on a reality show over a decade ago. The price sticker was still on the back.
I haven’t yet managed to find the time to read it, though I have at least made it through the introduction and skimmed a few online analyses of the book and of Camus’ philosophies in general and I see that his question is not just ‘why not suicide?; – but of how to accept the absurdity of a meaningless human existence. Camus’ view seems to be that of acknowledgment, acceptance…and rebellion; as though the secret to life is recognizing the pointlessness of it all, yet choosing to say “screw you” and experience as much life as possible in spite of its’ inherent meaninglessness.
But the thing that stands out to me the most is Camus’ thoughts on hope.
Hope. I write. a lot. about hope. in this blog. I’m a fan.
But Camus is not.
Camus believes that hope is illogical. That there’s no rational reason to think that the future will be better than the present. That the best we can achieve is to rebel against the absurdity, live, and die happy.
A quote from Myth: “The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.“
So contentment is best? But awareness/knowledge voids contentment until a certain higher level of knowledge is reached, which then brings true contentment?
So is that it? The answer to that very first question? Seek contentment above all? But if you accidentally become un-content, to seek more knowledge in order to be content again?
I don’t know if I buy it.
What if there’s something beyond where Camus’ conclusion ends? What if knowledge doesn’t lead to the acceptance of absurdity? What if true contentment is achieved through other means?
Instead of ‘Why not suicide?”, I ask “Why not hope?”
Instead of an acceptance of the rational conclusion of absurdity, why not an acceptance of something seemingly irrational? Why not hope?
This is all coming from a math teacher, by the way. I gel with a rational world.
But I acknowledge that Pi exists too.*
(*for non-math people, this is a subtle attempt at justifying the acceptance of a seemingly irrational existence. Pi is an irrational number…which means it cannot be written as a fraction and whose decimals continue forever. It’s an existing number that humans do not have the ability to exactly express. #mathlessonover 🙂 )
Call me irrational if you want (I’m cool hanging with my friends Pi and Golden Ratio), but I choose hope over absurdity.
Where Am I Going With All This Again?
A very reasonable question to ask, I must say.
You see, I haven’t been blogging recently. You probably didn’t notice, but that’s ok. I’ve been stuck. Stuck with direction, with knowing where to go in life, and what opportunities to pursue. KP was offered a temporary (but possibly long term) steady job after a couple months of uncertain freelance work. There’s some other projects of his in the works and he’s finishing drafts of some things and sending them to people, and we’re going out to some people with the script we’re writing together, and you know, as always, stuff is happening. But nothing is yet worth reporting about.
While the steady job is great, it’s also meant yet another adjustment in routine. Routine? Ha, what routine? We change gears so often it’s hard to ever know what’s going on. Still. We’re constantly adjusting. I have no idea what a “normal” family routine is like.
KP and I were out at some social gathering with our kids recently and someone asked me what I do. For the first time, I struggled with a response. What am I doing with my life right now? I’m not working full time in a profession that I can easily define myself by. But I don’t really consider myself a Stay-At-Home-Mom right now either. I’m far too busy with too many other passions and obligations to be what seems like a normal SAHM life.
I don’t know what I am right now.
I work part time from home teaching math in the evenings, I sorta/kinda have a baby item I’m patenting and should really be working on more, I’m now selling Usborne books and it’s actually taking off more than I planned, I’m maybe/kinda writing a movie with my husband if we sell it anywhere, I’ve recently recognized my need for social relationships and am actually putting effort in fostering community with other local moms, I’m trying to devote time to reaching people through this blog, and oh yeah! that’s right – I’m somewhere squeezing in the care and management of two small creatures and all their fits and tantrums and whining and discovery and amazement and laughter and appetites and health and safety and well-being.
I just do stuff. That’s what I do.
And then all these grand thoughts about the meaning of life have to bubble up and demand to be reconciled…precisely at a time when I don’t have the time or mindspace to devote time or mindspace to them.
But I want to think these thoughts. I want to reconcile them into nice organized compartments in my mind. I want everything to make sense and have answers.
I want it all.
It also does not help that I just had another birthday, putting me into a new age range bracket; one that I’m not ready to accept for myself. And all of a sudden I feel a very real pressure to accomplish all that I can and know all that I can in the unknown shortness of my remaining life.
I want my life to do something, to be something, to matter – I want it all.
I want success, achievement, money, recognition, influence, truth, happiness, love. I want knowledge and I want contentment.
I want it all.
I can’t have it all.
So once again, like always, I’m instead brought to a place of hope. Hope that the future may bring more than the present. Hope that the things I do now matter in the grand scheme of things. Hope that regardless of if I acquire great knowledge or if I find great contentment or even if I never figure out which of those pursuits is the most worthy to pursue – that either way, I have hope that my life still has a purpose and meaning.