"At our death beds, we will inevitably know that much didn't work out, that there were dreams that didn't come to pass and loves that were rejected, friendships that could never be repaired, and catastrophes and hurts we never overcame. But we will also know that there were threads of value that sustained us, that there was a higher logic we sometimes followed, that despite the agonies, our lives were not mere sound and fury; that in our own way, at select moments at least, we did properly draw benefit from, and understand, the meaning of life."
Category: Meaning of life
Today's word of the day is digression, an act or instance of digressing from a main subject in speech or writing. Pretty appropriate term on my 59th birthday. Indeed in many ways I feel I have reached the age of digression and look forward to the exploring the interesting results of following this path.
Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated--so:
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges--
"Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
- Explorer, Rudyard Kipling
I have serious concerns that the so-called modern society is becoming overly protective when it comes to raising our children and fostering a perfect society which isn't so perfect.
Parents, friends, family and society tend to think that it's best to preserve at all costs a "pristine moral world" in order that our fragile future leaders are not put into harms way.
After all, we do NOT want to scar them psychologically for life and end up breeding drug addicts, wife-beaters and serial murderers.
The TRUTH of the matter is that REAL life is not a bed of roses. The earlier we realize this and learn to cope with disappointments and seemingly harmful experiences the better.
Goofing off and inadvertently doing stupid things is a freedom that youth should be able to enjoy fully. Parents are there only to correct and guide, provide a solid example, and certainly NOT to enforce with draconian rules and regulations.
Especially not to the degree of making a religious crusade out of it, because that is very hypocritical when you look in the mirror and realize that the imperfections of your earlier life are exactly what have made you the person you are today.
That is something each and every one of us can be proud of.
"The motivations of man, because he sacrifices his health
in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to
recuperate his health, and then he is so anxious about the
future that he does not enjoy the present the result being
that he does not live in the present nor the future, rather
he lives as if he is never going to die, and then eventually
he dies, having never really lived."
- Dalai Lama
Hey it's the last day of two thousand and thirteen. Tomorrow it will be two thousand and fourteen. When I was a kid, the future seemed to be eons away. Once just for fun I calculated how old I would be on new year's day in the year two thousand. I'd be an ancient forty-two years old, can you believe that?! We would all communicate using these Dick Tracey walkie-talkie watches. Traveling would be a snap in flying machines just like on The Jetsons, and everyone would have their own personal robot assistant to do menial chores, like cleaning up the house and doing the shopping for you. Only slightly disappointed in progress, past that magical two thousand mark, thirteen years on and more than half a lifetime further, life goes on as usual.
When I look back on my life up to now, I can see that it has progressed through three very distinct and different phases of learning:
- 0 - 30 years old: I am great at pretty much everything I try and am successful in whatever I do. My goal in life is to be the best at everything (and also believe that I am the best).
- 30 - 50 years old: I meet failure once in a while, but most of the things I try I still succeed at. My goal in life is to avoid failure as much as possible (and still deny that I might not be the best).
- 50+ years old: Most of what I try goes wrong one way or the other and only very occasionally am I able to succeed at something. My goal is to carry on the best I can with the balancing act and avoid too much damage, where an occasional success comes as a reward (and accept that I am by far not the best).
Just the other day, we sat down next to the fireplace so that we could think about things past and work it all out. There was still much to deal with, but people were a bit afraid to confront things and be honest about it. Let's all work on it, we told each other. Not that we hoped it was possible, but what the heck.
Young and innocent with all kinds of wonderful ideas to change the world. That's how we were back then. Today we look in the mirror and are confronted with the differences between back then and now. Keep on going and see what happens.
At first we fell silent and there was not much to say. We could all feel it inside, but resisted the temptation. Who would like to start? Not me. Just get started and see what happens, could be interesting.
Let's be polite and see what happens. There is a whole evening ahead, so there is no need to rush things. Or even better, be honest and confrontational, just to get things moving a bit. Back in the old days we would drink and get high, but not any more we are too old for that.
Looking at the fireplace again. The flames took the precedence and pretty much dictated what we were expected to tell each other. Not a nice picture, painful to say the least, but that is the way things go sometimes. Sometimes at least.
When the evening was over, we felt like we had accomplished a lot but not quite enough. Next time we would organize things better, if that is possible. Stop looking at things past and live now.
So who is this guy and what is he trying to prove? He may give you the impression that he has everything under control, but he doesn't. At least not back then. There is still a lot to learn in life, many more years ahead to experience new and interesting things. Pretty naive and unwilling to accept responsibility, things will change shortly. As if you've got the whole world in your hands, the decision is yours, and then you discover that you don't have much control at all. Time to recover your balance and re-think how things should have become. It's never too late to recover from past mistakes. Better now then never.
I've been raised in a traditional family environment in which I have been taught that I am soley responsible for what I do. I must face up to all the consequences of my actions or what I might say.
But what does this mean exactly? How far can one justify this when there are so many unpredictable factors and indirect effects of which we cannot be held responsible?
If you truly believe that you are responsible for everything and the world around you, then if this world confronts you with unexpected and undesirable things, then logically you have no one else to blame but yourself.
A tremendous feeling of guilt overcomes you and you cannot understand what it is that you are doing wrong and why you should be suffering. By fighting it and resisting reality, you become frustrated and depressed.
A much better belief is that most external motions and actions are beyond your control, and the most you can do is influence them ever so slightly and never enough. Feeling good about yourself is important, and remaining as positive as possible in a world of suffering is the best way to proceed.
Your influence is strongest on the inner spiritual world, followed by your own body, following by your immediate surrounding, and the farther you get from the center of your being the less powerful your influence.
Concentrate most of your energies where it counts and where you can exert the most influence, and realize your limitations. You cannot change everything, only the things that you were originally meant to change.
One year ago and a day was my last day at Navteq Frankfurt, I remember the long drive back home very well. At that time my future seemed bleak at best, and I was very worried where I was headed, what life had in store for me.
I never gave up. In the end I got pretty lucky and found yet another new and interesting challenge in life. Another page is turned in the history book of our souls.
The music keeps blaring from the radio and I can hear it as the car passes by in the rain.
Ever notice how everyone is in such a hurry and always decides to choose to take the quickest route from A to B? How about if one were to develop a new state of the art technology that allowed people to take the longest route instead?
Who knows, maybe in the future some kind of paradigm shift could take place which would make people think differently, e.g. no need to rush, remain relaxed, etc. I wonder if such a product could ever become popular and would sell very well in the end.
I better put a patent on this clever idea before it's too late. In the meantime, don't tell anyone.
Remember the good old days when the word 'urgent' really meant something? When an occasional exclamation mark or two could raise one's attention level like a good kick in the rear?
You would see that word and jump, it was truly an eye-catcher. Got to do something right away, or else! Had it appeared on an envelope falling through your mail slot, you could not do anything else before that important letter had been opened and read very carefully.
Nowadays the word appears everywhere, usually formatted as large bold text, more often than not followed by a series of giant exclamation marks. In order to cast a hook into your eyeball in case you don't notice.
I don't know about other people or the average human being, but I've become so numbed by word 'urgent' that I'm embarrassed to admit that I do not notice it anymore.
I should be careful. A life or a fortune could be lost in the not so distant future, just because I do not notice how urgent something really is.
One often wonders how people can be so overly eager to attach much value and meaning to quotations that seem like fairly insignificant collections of random words.
On my way home driving on the highway from Rotterdam this afternoon, I passed this large white van with all kinds of bible quotations plastered across the sides and back of the vehicle.
Perhaps for some this is a strategic manner of preaching worthwhile thoughts to non-believers, but it looked more to me like a waste of effort and paint.
"... and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee."
I'm watching this older man negotiating his way up the stairs, pausing every few steps to catch his breath. He's almost reached the top where a new challenge awaits him.
At the bottom of the stairs the woman who could be his wife is looking at this old man's back while she chews on a large sandwich with tomatoes falling out.
Suddenly feeling like I too am being watched from somewhere near, I turn my head to see a young stylish woman glancing at me just before she embarrassingly looks down at the ground.
Just beyond her I see some unshaven teenager with a slight belly carrying a guitar case staring at the young woman who was looking at me.
At any moment in time there is a web of visual interactions criss-crossing the platform as the crowd collects and then disperses again.
How far back or how far forward this unpredictable broken path of connected people watching other people extends is impossible to measure and not easily imagined.
There might be ten people connected this way, and then none, and then more than fifty, and then just a few again.
The more crowded it is the more connections there are, increasing and decreasing as the evening progresses, oscillating more and less, damping out until there is not a single soul left in the world.
A Buddhist monk once told the famous physicist Richard P. Feynman the following proverb of the religion:
"To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell."
Taken from his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? which I just finished reading and thought was great.
The same treatment was repeated with me. She stabbed the flat screen with dagger-like motions, rang up two-fifty-five, and I handed her the blue ten euro note. I held my hand in place hovered in the air as she groped around for the money. She handed me back the small change, along with a red twenty euro note.
Caught off guard for an instant, I hesitated slightly before gathering up enough courage to react. I told her politely that I thought perhaps she had mistakingly given me back the twenty euro note when it should have been a five, because you see I had paid with ten.
For the first time she raised her eyes and looked at me directly with pierced vision, her grumpy glance becoming even more irate. She had been trained well to beware of bums like me trying to short change the store.
"That's impossible," she snapped back at me. I responded with a smile, "Excuse me but I originally gave you ten, so I think you meant to give me five back, not twenty." Trained not to think, she kept her lips sealed and just shook her head back and forth. She waved me off and tarted helping the next customer in line.
I'm normally a pretty honest guy. I should have insisted until she called the police to take me away, but that look on her face combined with the growing line of impatient customers and their rattling overflowing shopping carts hinted that I should just accept this turn of fate and continue with my life.
I walked away wiithout making a big deal, accepting my good twist of fate although underneath I still feel a little guilty about it all.
If I had such a big ugly wart, I would certainly have had it removed ages ago. Getting up every morning, looking at myself in the mirror and being confronted by such a disgusting protrusion would have made me feel very uncomfortable or driven me insane.
Obviously the old man does not seem to care, hasn't yet noticed it, or has simply become so attached to this extra facial ornament, that living without his big ugly wart would make his life unbearable and perhaps even not worth living.
The famous and well-loved Luciano Pavarotti dies at the early age of seventy-one.
Meaning that if I end up living that long I have only a little more than twenty years to go.
Something for me to think about.
The skinny guy wearing a dilapidated baseball cap shuffled up to me and asked shyly if I could spare him some change. Hesitant but desperate at the same time...
"Can you spare some change?"
"I just got out of prison and they put me out on the street without a cent..."
"So how'd you end up in prison of all places?!"
"Well they picked me up off of the street where I was sleeping in some alley. I had nowhere to stay, sorry."
So without thinking much except that I was in a generous mood for some reason, I reached into my wallet and gave him a 2 euro coin.
"Is that enough?"
"Yes, yes, thanks alot..."
Right at the moment I was hoping we had reached some kind of repore, the poor homeless guy had disappeared around the corner. Say good-bye and be gone.
Never to be seen again. Oh well, there goes my two euros.
Once again we had decided to make an appointment in order to discuss how events had progressed since the previous time we had met.
Mutual goals, comparing, the differences between then and now. Had it already been nearly one year ago? Maybe more.
When I arrived at the meeting place, the smell of damp wood and uncertain swirls on the floor, I was surprised to be confronted with a visage that had aged much more than the year that had passed. Was this the same person or not?
During the meeting before, he had confessed to me in a confidential moment between silences that although he had not aged for many many years, the next year would bring forth an acceleration of growing older, more and more quickly. Nothing to be concerned about. Or not?
I took my seat next to him and we shook hands. Just let it be. The dying part was about to begin.
Alright then, so let's discuss how events had progressed, the objectives we had predefined and described so clearly on paper, how far each of us had been able to proceed.
When he ripped the pen out of my hand I thought he was about to draw down something meaningful, say on one of the two yellowish napkins lying between us, but that was not to be.
Instead, he used the pen as a kind of pointer, aimed at the most upper left-hand corner of the room, saying nothing for a minute and then uttering something I couldn't quite understand.
I said that the next time we meet it will have to be in this same place, and then we will finally have something meaningful to discuss.
Alright, see you next year. Or even later perhaps.
Life is dauntless in its need to keep on testing you as if nature's ultimate goal is meant to make you give up and throw in the towel.
Not unless you are a survivor.
On my way to the fitness center on my bike I passed a young blond-haired girl on the side of the road and she waved to me saying "Hello Mr. Gish!"
I did not recognize her at all, but no matter.
For those of you out there trying to figure things out just let me say that while in the short term it may appear overly important in the long run it really doesn't matter that much at all.
In other words, use the present situation to leap frog over the near future and focus on where you want to be when you have grown more and more and supposedly have something to say about what life is all about.
Right now my dear wife is flying somewhere high in the sky on her way to visiting my son Lennart who has been living in LA for the last several months, stopping over in the windy city of Chicago where she'll have to change planes. Indeed it is a strange idea that Thea and I will soon be separated by no less that seven thousand miles or so. One week and then she will be back, so I guess I will be able to survive just fine. With a little help of my kids, of course.
Have you ever noticed that whenever you are in a book or music store and you are looking for a certain author or artist whose name begins with a given letter that there is always some other customer who just happens to be standing in your way even if the store is completely empty and you two are the only people present?
Soon it will be November, and then what? Longer nights, colder weather, darkness taking over and whatever. Not exactly my favorite time of the year, but it is part of the natural changing seasons thing, that cycle of awareness that nature imposes on us whether we like it or not, with the good comes the other end of the story and so forth. Let's just say that we adapt or we sink underneath the quick sand of reality.
When I woke up this morning, it took me about ten seconds of drowsy after-thought and the sleepiness melting away before it finally dawned on me that forty-nine was not a prime number after all. Oh well, having an age that is only divisible by one or itself is harder to come by than most people realize, let alone even think about it once over a whole lifetime of thought. In two years it will be a different story for me, so I will just have to wait and be patient and hope for the best.