Today I have been thinking about life and death. Life is a beautiful mess, full of curves and twists, and poignant moments and joy and pain and everything in between. I stand by all that.
But, in the scheme of time, we are but a breath. No truer had I understood this than when I studied history. Most of the students slept through the class. But I found it riveting. There in a white walled classroom, the some two dozen bored twenty year olds faded away, and I was Confronted with kings, and emperors and nations, and generals…none immune to the prey of the great hubris. Then there were feudal lords, and peasants and knights in not so shining armor, with their torrid affairs all scheming for money, sex and power while the downtrodden peasants gave their lives to make it all possible.
And in this epic movie of human life, I came to a dramatic realization. My country, a long standing beacon of life as I knew it, which seemed to always have been– except in the case of dusty Pilgrims in knee-high tights and curvy corsets staring back from revered oil canvas, was but a blip on the radar of time. It was not the definitive way of civilized life. It was an ongoing sociological experiment in democracy and liberty that had yet to prove its longevity. But, this experiment, evangelized by American imperialism, and softened by increasing globalism, was the only way I understood existence:
…..Everyone has the right to pursue wealth, happiness, regardless of class. Your family’s standing does not define you–you define you. You can change your born status if you want. You can be whatever you want to be, you just have to work hard for it. Hard work is the only real way to achieve big things. No one owes you anything, you must work for what you want. And anything you have, you can lose so you have to maintain it. Every person matters. Every person is equal to the law. No one is above, or below, the law. You can marry whomever you want. You can think or say virtually whatever you want–although if you say it In a public forum you have to be careful or you can get sued. If you see a way to make money-then go after it….
And yet, I came to understand, these ideas are so new to human thought. And even within my own culture, my specific way of life was so new. My understanding of the world was a subculture within an infantile culture that was still struggling to find an identity in itself. How small my life was.
I have been thinking about this lately. If my country and culture are but a blip–what of my life? What of my small space in the world? Mine is smaller than some, I will say. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE my life. It is a hard-earned lifestyle of impermanence marked by artistic inspiration and Bohemian minimalism. My most valuable earthly possessions are a decade old vehicle, a laptop, and most recently, an iPad. I deliberately fashioned this low maintenance life to create room for art.
But my life is full of people, ideas, plans, memories, stories, photographs, and books and music…all the things that make life vibrant. And in this way, I have carved out a little hole for myself in the surface of the earth. And there I live, something like a hobbit with an addiction to wifi. But how easily this hole can close, even if I were I to live an extraordinary life.
Recently, Paul McCartney did a song with Kanye West. After the single was released, Twitter was a buzz with Kanye fans, saying things like, “Who the $?!@ is Paul McCartney?!” Or “I don’t know who this PaulMcCartney is, but his career is about to BLOW UP.” Another said, “That’s what I love about Kanye. Always taking the time to help out newer artists.” Here it was, a man who was once “bigger than Jesus,” just a few generations later, being washed from memory
I have moved over thirty times. In those years, I have said many goodbyes, some tearful, some not so. And in each case, whatever hole I had carved for myself there, closed up and life moved on. I became nothing more than a mental video decreasing in clarity with each passing year.
And, what did any of it ever mean? What is man but a breath?