Saturday, December 30, 2006

LIFE itself is reason and meaning enough for anyone

A version of this column of mine appeared in January of 1994 in the Ridgefield Press.

There is a strange nocturnal tendency at the end of the year. The whirl of Christmas celebrations complete, children in bed, we sit exhausted amid holiday debris. We catch our breath, count our toes and our debts. By the tree’s schmaltzy twinkle, we measure the weight of the passing year and ponder the meaning of our lives.

Apparently weighty matters ripen more rapidly after dark. Only a few moments ago, with eyes clamped determinedly shut, mind still in the spin cycle, I restlessly stretched out my right arm, As I did so an odd intruding thought crowded out the annual clamor of self-assessment.

How smooth, that movement of arm; how incredible and improbable the sensations of each muscle moving, perfectly coordinated and alive... I sat straight up in bed. How strange, how amazing, I thought every human being over all the Earth, whatever language, religion or economic reality, every one of them partakes in this same phenomenon - life.

We have life; we are life; yet we spend life arguing about what life is. We are alive yet we can’t agree on life’s cause or goal.

Over centuries, humanity has fermented a primordial sea of argument. Ideas and needs that simmer like soup, boiling over often into political and personal violence. Despite the beauty of  each season, despite the sincerity of our endeavors, despite our common aliveness, we have never once agreed on the scheme of things. But we carry on anyway. Each year people fall in love. Children are born. New projects begin. The status quo decays. Revolutions are launched. Ideas take hold. Countries are founded, technologies invented, branches of knowledge expanded, fallacies debunked, empire disassembled. New fallacies, new empires arise.

Apparently life itself, full of vigor and promise, is enough to work with, this life which contains its own wordless philosophies, which is astonishing - both to philosophers who ponder it and scientists who study its mecahnisms.

And being alive is like tasting good soup. No amount of probing the roster of ingredients, no amount of pleading with an imagined chef or  picturing vegetables being chopped, no amount of accurate measurement, timing, skimming or stirring -- none of these will convey the wonder of savoring a single spoonful.

Whatever life’s cause - each moment is precious, complex, intricate. This is true whether there is one loving god, an army of indifferent gods or no god at all. It is true whether there are angels and archangels, a living gaia, a sentient universe or only DNA struggling for survival in chaotic cycles of energy and time. None of these concepts alters the immediate reality of my arm. Or your arm. Or my brain or your brain. Or the cacophony of our conscious minds swirling with divergent and conflicting thought every hour of the night and day.

As an experiment, observe yourself inwardly for a moment. Mentally slip thought the side door. Stand just out side your stream of thought and watch the flow. Listen to your heart beating, to the steady rhythm of your breathing. Notice the faint odors of familiar things without labeling them or thinking about them, simply be them all. You are them all already. It sounds simple, inane even. But this process of simply observing reveals the rich texture of our existence.

Perhaps, as life is what we have in common, we might in the new year contemplate and celebrate the life inherent in our competing arguments. this network of vigorous, argumentative (letter-to-the-editor-writing) life -- over all the Earth and anywhere else it night be found -- this life itself is reason and meaning enough for a thousand philosophers.

So live every day of this new year. Remember the soup. Some days may be nourishing and hearty. Some may be watery and bitter. Whatever life’s taste, savor every second.