(My) Ordinary Life is Good

…Mr. Landau dismantles common myths and offers strategies to help people find greater purpose in their own lives. Systematically, he refutes the usual arguments as to why life is pointless: Since the universe is so vast and we’re so tiny, nothing that we do matters … no one will remember us; everything we do and treasure will one day perish from the earth. None of these deters Mr. Landau from his rational, philosophical argument for why each individual’s life is meaningful…

Mr. Landau notes that all such concerns are animated by the same mistaken belief: that a valuable life must necessarily be a perfect one. “According to this presupposition,” he writes, “meaningful lives must include some perfection or excellence or some rare and difficult achievements.” Those who despair of life’s meaning can’t see the value in the ordinary; only lives of greatness such as Michelangelo’s or Lincoln’s can be worthwhile.

As Mr. Landau observes, such perfectionism sets a standard for meaningfulness that is nearly impossible to attain. He mentions a talented biologist he knows who considers her life wasted because she didn’t reach the very top of her field. Perfectionism’s other, more odious, problem is its elitism: It assumes that some lives have more worth than others. Though clearly wrong, a version of this idea is deeply embedded in our secular culture. A meaningful life, we’re constantly told, lies in worldly success: going to certain colleges, landing certain jobs and living in certain communities. Mr. Landau doesn’t spell it out, but he seems to understand where this flawed assumption leads. Does the life of a child with Down syndrome have less value than the life of a healthy child? Is a retail clerk leading a less meaningful life than, say, Elon Musk? A perfectionist would have to say yes and yes. But Mr. Landau wisely points out that it’s cruel and misguided to hold ourselves or others to this standard for meaning, because it neglects each life’s inherent worth. […]

In “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World,” Mr. Landau presents a much-needed lesson in humanity and compassion. Don’t beat yourself up if you fail to achieve your lofty goals, he urges; instead, celebrate the value of an ordinary life well lived. In the same way you don’t have to become a monk or nun to be a good Christian, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare or Rockefeller to lead a good life. Holding your child’s hand, volunteering in your community, doing your job, appreciating the beauty around you—these are the wellsprings of meaning all of us can tap.

~ Emily Esfahani Smith, in her book review titled “Review: Redefining a Well-Lived Life” of “Finding Meaning in an Imperfect World” by Iddo Landau (August 1, 2017)


Photo: Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya, Thailand via Eclecticitylight. Thank you Doug.

 

Riding down Lyndon B. Johnson Fwy. With Uber.

drive.jpg.png

6:05 am.

Dallas. Dark. Autumn.

Rachel lingers in the subconsciousness. My index finger hunts for the Uber app. “It’s oooober Dad, not uuuuuber.”

What a  fantastical creature I am…of modest intelligence…and despite repeated attempts…I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the correct pronunciation of a four letter word.  My lips are self-driving, top and bottom – they quietly lip sync oooooooober. I think I got it right this time Honey.

The app pops up.

There’s so many choices. Economy VIP. Economy uberX. Premium Select. Premium Black. Extra Seats XL. Extra Seats SUV.

Economy VIP it is. Whatever VIP means.

6 minutes to his arrival. $11.28 plus tip.

Who would of thought 10 years ago you would jump into a stranger’s car and get a lift to the office. No need to pull out cash or credit card.  AMAZING.

Car pulls up. “You…David?

With Uber, you never know who or what pulls up. Insomniacs on night shift. A Dallas Cowboys’ off duty body guard. Mom’s with second jobs. Men, quiet, angry (?), between jobs, who steal glances at the Suit in the back seat. Those workin’ your maximum comfort to secure a larger tip. Is the temperature just right for you Sir? The talkers. The dreamers. All kinds.

Uber has a rating system; driver rates you, you rate the driver. Judging, on both sides, commences immediately.  If you aren’t waiting curbside for the driver, you get whacked.

He pulls up. Sporty compact. uber VIP? I wedge myself into the back seat. Rating is plummeting. Driver fails to pull up the passenger side seat to offer leg room. Amateur miss. My kneecaps press against the back of the seat. VIP.

I sit quietly.  Driver does the same.

A green pine tree air freshener swings wildly from rear view mirror. I inhale.  A smoker. Nicotine is soaked into the seats. Is there a rating below 0?

96.3 FM Country is turned on, and loud. It’s too early for country, anytime of the day. The video screen says it’s Eric Church.

I’ve been steady and learnin’ lonely
Keepin’ this turntable spinnin’

I sit quietly. The car shocks are ineffective, with each pothole, my knees ram into the passenger seat. Delta Airlines in a non-reclining, non-comfort window seat in heavy turbulence. Is that claustrophobia you are feeling? His rating is gone, now we are debating, tip or no tip.

I open the app. The Driver’s rating for 463 rides is 4.93 (out of 5). Impossible!  I note from his profile that his given name and surname is Vietnamese.

And then, I spot a rhythm.

An involuntary pattern followed by rituals.
[Read more…]

Walking Cross Town. And Doubt Farming.

Take 7.

Yep, 7th attempt to produce something, Anything, Something, Anything, that’s worthy.

I’m walking across Manhattan on 47th street and the weight bears down. Tuesday morning after a long weekend. Shoes feel heavy. Shoulders slouched. A Sherpa hauling a full load.

It’s 9 days and counting. I’ve run out of puppy pictures. I’ve finished Will Schwalbe’s Books for a Living and I’m finished with my quotidian shares of his wisdom.

So, I conduct an autopsy of the prior six attempts on partially completed blog posts:

  • Take 1: How I gained 10 lbs in 30 days and still feel good about me.
    • (23% complete. Tired topic.)
  • Take 2: How I, an introvert, primed a large group of employees at a networking event.
    • (83% complete, and Quit. Too anxious to finish, too anxious to share.)
  • Take 3: Favorite songs on 7 on 70’s on Sirius. The angelic voice of Karen Carpenter with Top of the World (’72)…I’m on the top of the world looking down on creation – – followed by Meatloaf with Paradise by the Dashboard (’77)…Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark nightI can see paradise by the dashboard lightAin’t no doubt about it…We were doubly blessed…Ain’t no doubt about it…
    • (17% complete. Despite a continuing irresistible urge to lip sync “Ain’t no doubt about it…we were doubly blessed…Tired theme. Deleted.)

[Read more…]

Lightly Child, Lightly.

I remember one morning getting up at dawn. There was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling. And I… I remember thinking to myself: So this is the beginning of happiness, this is where it starts. And of course there will always be more… never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment, right then.

— Michael Cunningham, The Hours: The Novel


Notes:

  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”
  • Photo: via Mennyfox55.
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • Related Posts: Michael Cunningham

 

Walking Cross-Town. With a Note to Todd.

It’s Sunday. Sun’s up and it’s warming. Squirrels are foraging, birds are pecking at the feeders, others chirp overhead in the trees, still bare and free of spring shoots.  Dickens had it right: “It was one of those March April days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Day of Sabbath. Day of Peace (should be). Several hours remain, and they are leaking fast – Monday’s calendar is already bullying its way in.

So why go here?

Because it goes where it wants.

It’s Friday afternoon, and voila, the appearance of a fortituous gap in the calendar. The elevator is racing down from the 39th floor to the Lobby.  I check the train schedule, 1:04 pm departure, 24 minutes to walk across town to Grand Central. Doable.  Fingers, eyes and mind skitter from the Metro North App, to iMessage, to Work email to Gmail.  The mental box continues to drop, one eye is on the floor indicator, like it might not stop on the ground floor and keep going. The stomach does a wee backflip and settles. Otis Elevator Man has this under control. How all this sh*t works is lost on me. Best I don’t know.

I step into the lobby and then onto Times Square.  A ZOO, even in the drizzle. I glance right, left, and across the street, the scene is Same – the jeweler on break for a smoke, the Construction worker with his florescent vest, the driver of the double decker tour bus, the traffic cop pausing between lights – all have their heads are down inside smart phones, and outside the World.

Me too.

I wait for the Walk sign, and it’s back to Gmail.  I pop open a WordPress notification from Todd’s blog – Bright, Shiny Objects, with the post titled: “Why?” I click the link, wait impatiently for the cell service to catch up, thousands of others doing the same at the same time, the rain, the overcast, the tall looming skyscrapers block satellite reception – it clears.  I chuckle, and whisper: “Truth.”  I punch out: “Great“, hit send, and the gremlins grab it and race off to Algoma, WI.

The signal turns to Walk.

I walk.

Six minutes later, my phone buzzes, the gremlin’s have raced back from Algoma with a reply from Todd:

How do you do it?[Read more…]

Riding Metro North. With The Case.

case

I’m sitting out of your view, bottom right corner of the photo. It’s the fourth train of the day, the 6:16 am to Grand Central. Standing room only. Sort of.

That’s him, with The Case. Large. Brown. Leather. It’s gotta be 20″ x 14″, an old school Beast. The four brass nubs protecting the base have lost their sheen. And Case, takes up an entire seat. The commuter across from Case, has to sit diagonally to avoid contact. Overhead storage is empty, the vestibule has four riders standing for the 50 minute duration.

A Suit walks down the aisle looking for a seat, slowing as he approaches Case’s Owner. He pauses to see if there is recognition, there is none, he elects to avoid contact, and pushes on to the next train car.

Case’s Owner wears gold wire rimmed glasses, a gold wedding band and black slip-ons, adorned with unmistakeable gold buckles, Ferragamo’s. His heavy wool navy sport coat is oversize and he’s tie-less with an open shirt collar. Hair, on top, on front, on sides has long since abandoned him, but keeps his occiput warm. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. With Both Thumbs.

5:40 am to Grand Central. Standing room only, 4 men stand in the vestibule. How is this possible on the second train of the day?

One of the four left standing, leans against the railing.  Italian shoes. Beats Wireless Ear buds. A snappy form fitted Canada Goose vest. Shirt cuffs unbuttoned. Stylin’. A Starbucks cup in one hand, a smartphone in the other, he flicks screens, grins, and sips his coffee.

Lady in the seat directly across reads the New York Times. Yes, like a real newspaper, a legitimate oddity on a commuter train. A glance up and down the rail car reveals no single other newspaper, just the hum of the air-conditioning and the silent flicking of hundreds of index fingers.

Lady next to her, a face white as snow, contrasting with her black coat, tall black knee high boots, and the white skin of the knee bunching out of a black knee brace. She grips a large, black, Samsonite wheeled carry on, with her black back pack resting on top.  Her makeup groans to cover darkening bags under the eyes. The dike is leaking, age is ready to break, for her, for me. Cat Steven’s tune drifts in: Morning has broken….black bird has spoken… [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. With Salamander’s moments.

sunlight

7 am to Grand Central.

The red under belly of the salamander is still close. I unfurl my fingers and let him scamper. Each minute, each moment whisked away along with the swish of his tail.

Two seats in front, a silver haired man flips open a large, hard covered book, dark navy cover – so rare to see a real book. His index finger slides down the page, followed by the rustle of the page turn, a sound produced only from something grown from the Earth.

A lady, across from him wears a grape colored knitted hat, fluffy pom-pom on top, backpack on her lap. Her head leans against window, she’s fast asleep, her mouth partially open, breathing softly.

Man down the aisle, his head swaying, large muffs cover his ears, noise canceling head phones streaming, perhaps a tribute to Chuck Berry, or something soulful, the deep baritone of Barry White with Let the Music Play. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

salamander, red

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

~ Denise Levertov, from “Living” in Selected Poems


Notes:

Oh, of course we are.

above-average


Source: The New York Times Magazine

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