The guy who cleaned our windows suddenly blurted: “My friend died of leukemia this week….only 35 …..went to the doctor … told few weeks to live.” He was clearly mourning his friend, but also deeply shaken by the abrupt, arbitrary twist of life. It defied logic and confounded his sense of order.
This was the third case I had heard of in the last few weeks. It shook me out of the complacency of everyday life. And brought me back to the base question: “What is it all about?”
In my twenties, my litmus test was, “How will I feel about this when I am 60?” Sixty seemed impossibly far away and seemed a good spot at which to evaluate one's life. Now the question changes,”What will I feel at the end?” Which could be unexpectedly close.
I know that no one ever wishes they spent more time at the office, but what do they wish? How do they make a coherent thread out of all these years? Traffic jams, cutting carrots, websurfing, projects, gardening, bathing kids, watching TV. How do they add up to SOMETHING? Or WHAT do they add up to?
So I started from the end. When you look at your life through the wrong end of a telescope, it looks very strange. What would I like my life to say? And once I know, how do I get there?
Like most of us, I won't be leaving beautiful architecture, though we did build a cottage on a lake. I won't be leaving great art, revolutionary scientific breakthroughs or great philosophy. I am just an ordinary stone dropped into an ordinary pond. On the other hand, I have no desire to have been a celebrity, invented a new fast food or spent my life shuttling from airport to airport – or building a multi- story car park.
Like most of us, my life is a necklace, small deeds strung on the thread, mine of a happy marriage. It seems what will matter most is not so much WHAT I have done, but HOW, the ambience of actions. So being enquiring with strong spiritual leanings, I went back to my original life theory. That “in the beginning was the Word.”
Yes, from the Bible, but illuminated for me – suppose way back before it all began, there was just an idea. Just like those we idly toss around. But this one was huge – and possible? Is our world a great “What if”? Which has to be fleshed out, made manifest by us, individual life by individual life? Are we great co-creators?
Last night I read a quote by Harry West who invented, of all the unlikely things, the Swiffer. “The concept is only the start of the process. The hardest work always comes after, when you're trying to make the idea real”. (Imagine : How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.)
Perhaps free will is our choice of how we create our world around us – and is sin, a word I detest with its connotations of hell fire, the degree to which we don't make manifest our possibilities. And those, to me, are not prizes and trophies, but a life kindly, perhaps even wisely, lived
Perhaps hell is our realization of what we could have been. I picture heaven as a celestial concert which we can join in if we have practiced our instrument well enough. No punishment, but a consequence: the simple fact that if we haven't honed ourselves, we are not able to take part. I have always thought that the warnings in the Bible, that sound like curses, “The sins of the father” being visited on the children for example, are not warnings but simple statements of how things work. Of course our actions affect our children – they have to. I still don't know how, on a daily basis, to get there, but I have an inkling that what will shape my end will be not what I have done, but who I have been.