Friday, December 13, 2013

On Being Part of Something That Does Not Depend on Me

I’m starting to be able to see the world without me. No one thinks he will live forever, but the idea--no, not the idea, the feeling--of the world going on without me is new to me. For all my life the past has been laid out behind me. I could look back and see the road I had traveled and I could read about and imagine all the roads others traveled to lead to that moment. I could imagine the future, in a sci-fi kind of way--space ships and landings on Mars--but I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t feel it. That didn’t surprise me. Why should I be able to see the future? No one can.

But that’s not true. I can see it now. It is, broadly speaking, more of the same. There will be changes, but unless we extinct ourselves (always a possibility), they will be incremental. There will be advances in science and probably even in democracy, but humanity is like water: it always fills in the low places. The day-to-day human struggles of a century ago look, overall, remarkably like those of today. In another hundred years, they will look the same.
I don’t remember ever considering what I was doing. I don’t mean ordinary things, like what to eat, whom to ask out, where to go to school. Broadly, though, from the beginning of my memory, I have put one foot in front of the other on a path that seemed to be one I should walk, the one laid down for me by the gods who ordain such things. There was no one else on my path (which is how I got a false sense of uniqueness). I didn’t even think about whether others had their own paths. I might have thought they were just wandering around. I was, at a minimum, pretty egocentric.
When I looked ahead, it was mainly to be careful of my footing or wary of the dangers that might lurk behind a nearby bush. It wasn’t that I didn’t have goals. As Rummy liked to say, I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. And what I didn’t know was that I was never looking very far into the future, the real future, not some fantasy concoction. One thing seemed to lead inexorably to another: school to work to marriage to children. When you live that way, before you know it you’ve lived a lot of your life without wondering why.
Now one thing has not led to another. The path is no longer laid out before me. I’m looking up for the first time, as if from a trance, and wondering where I’m going.
Let me just say, it was a lot easier doing it the other way. I’m not sure I know how to make my own path. The problem is that I don’t know where I want to go. My life now isn’t about success or money or children. So what is it about? What am I about? When you look up from where your next footstep will fall, you can get dizzy. It’s disorienting. On a boat you watch the horizon to keep from getting seasick. For me, just now anyway, looking up at the horizon of life has the opposite effect. It makes me feel queasy. It makes me want to look back down. It’s almost enough to make me want to go back to practicing law. Now that was a time when I hardly ever looked up.
The horizon of life. What is that anyway? I can see all of humanity as if we were a great herd. I can see the dust boiling up from the savannas we have crossed and the lands ahead where we will go together. I can see myself in the herd, part of it the way a single blood cell is part of the flow in an artery, and I know that although I am part of it, it does not depend on me.

I’m trapped in a college dorm room discussion with myself about the meaning of life. We all woke up in the morning after those and nothing was any different, not even us. I don’t want to be cynical, though. That’s too easy. I want to figure out my place in things, even if it’s just to occupy my space in the great march. I’m sorry I didn’t think more about it before, but it’s probably just as well. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have gotten much done.

1 comment:

  1. This is an extraordinarily honest and moving post, Mac -- thank you so much for putting it forth. I think it's only the people who live with the most engagement and curiosity and openness who come to the point of courageously asking such things. As your friend and fellow writer, of course, I do have at least a temporary answer for you -- you're a writer! and you have superb and unusual gifts of insight, perceptiveness, and story-telling. This is more than most people on earth have, and I do believe that such gifts contribute something special and lasting to the world. I think you and Meg and co. (if I can be of the co.) should have an Out of the Herd coffee every two three weeks this winter, just to keep ourselves on our non-herd track!