(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 TX-114 E. With Ron.

The alarm rings. For this self-rising yeast, it’s a rare morning when I need an alarm.

I roll over to glance at the clock: 3:10 am. I would have slept through it. Body resists all movement. I gotta get up.

3:58 am. I-95 S. Truckers, drunks (hope not), others heading to LGA and JFK, and me.

4:45 am. Security check-in line snakes down the corridor and around the corner. At least 100 deep. WTH? Does anyone know what time it is? I look down the hall and the TSA line is empty. The good joo joo train is rolling. I wait for TSA man to wave me through the x-ray frame. No pat down required. (No hands riding too close to the crotchal area.) No random bag check. The sun keeps shining.

5:33 am. Boarding.

6:00 am. Jet doors hiss and close. I’m seated in an aisle seat (preferred). There’s no one next to me. It’s an Exit row. How do you spell Nirvana?

6:45 am. 32,000 feet. Kitty corner right, one row up. Mother. Late 20’s. Holding infant, maybe 2 months old. A beautiful baby boy. His head is nestled in his Momma’s nape. He lifts his head, wobbly, and he stares at me with his big brown eyes. Miracle. All of it. My hands tire after holding my e-reader for 20 minutes.  She holds him for the entire 3 hour and 20 minute flight, with the exception of 2 bathroom breaks. Rocking him. Cradling him. Feeding him. Mothers, Wow. 

8:55 am CST. On time landing. My checked bag is at baggage claim spinning on the carousel. Should I buy a Lotto ticket, Now?

8:56 am. Smartphone buzzes. Text message. “Sir, it is Ron Smith, your driver. I’m waiting at Gate C21.” How did we survive before text messaging?

9:00 am. “Good morning Sir. Let me grab your bag.” Ron is in his late 60’s. Chauffeur hat. “Let me get the door for you Sir.” Hat. Door. Sir. Uneasiness drifts in.

[Read more…]

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…]

It’s been a long day (Right)

Rohingya refugee children from Myanmar’s Rakhine state rest at a refugee camp near Teknaf, Bangladesh. Nearly 125,000 mostly Rohingya refugees have entered Bangladesh since a fresh surge of violence in Myanmar began in late August. Photo by: K. M. Asad, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images. (wsj.com, September 5, 2017)


Related Posts: It’s been a long day

 

meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane

From “You’ll Never Be Famous — And That’s O.K.” by Emily Esfahani Smith:

There’s perhaps no better expression of that wisdom than George Eliot’s “Middlemarch”…At 700-some pages, it requires devotion and discipline, which is kind of the point. Much like a meaningful life, the completion of this book is hard won and requires effort. […]

As for Dorothea..she marries her true love…But her larger ambitions go unrealized. At first it seems that she, too, has wasted her potential. Tertius’s tragedy is that he never reconciles himself to his humdrum reality. Dorothea’s triumph is that she does.

By novel’s end, she settles into life as a wife and a mother, and becomes, Eliot writes, the “foundress of nothing.” It may be a letdown for the reader, but not for Dorothea. She pours herself into her roles as mother and wife with “beneficent activity which she had not the doubtful pains of discovering and marking out for herself.”

Looking out her window one day, she sees a family making its way down the road and realizes that she, too, is “a part of that involuntary, palpitating life, and could neither look out on it from her luxurious shelter as a mere spectator, nor hide her eyes in selfish complaining.” In other words, she begins to live in the moment. Rather than succumb to the despair of thwarted dreams, she embraces her life as it is and contributes to those around her as she can.

This is Eliot’s final word on Dorothea: “Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

It’s one of the most beautiful passages in literature, and it encapsulates what a meaningful life is about: connecting and contributing to something beyond the self, in whatever humble form that may take.

Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like this one. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve — and we can find our meaning in that. [Read more…]

Walking Across Town. Blinded By the Light.

Isabel Miramontes, Come On

Mid July in Manhattan.

I step out of the Metro North car onto the platform, and walk down the tunnel in Grand Central. There’s zero transition from the air cooled train car @ 69° F to This. The body is swallowed by dampness, cool to not cool, Bam. The softness of the pressed shirt turns to less soft, to not soft, to moist, to sticking to the chest. Feet, are choking from their leather wraps, swollen from weight gain (6.3 lbs in less than 30 days) – chafing is coming, oh, it’s coming, by days end, or sooner. There will be blood.

I exhale little puppy breaths to pass the heat, trying to keep cool. Fail.

It’s 6:28 a.m. Tourists mingle in midtown, coalesce around the network TV studios and their Morning Shows – holding their cups of coffee, hoping to spot a celebrity, or better yet, get a cameo for the folks back home. Hi, Jane from Iowa! [Read more…]

Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head / and pretend that he just doesn’t see?

Growing up in Harpswell, Maine, I was always conscious of the wind. The Atlantic Ocean was our front yard, and our house was completely exposed. Even playing in the woods as a child, I thought the wind was trying to tell me something.  I first heard Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind in 1973, during my last year in high school. Someone played it for me. Even though the song had come out 10 years earlier, when I was 7, I never owned the record as a young person. I didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have anything to play the record on.

As a child, I sensed the wind had a restless, secretive quality. The song’s argument that the answers to life’s vexing questions are blowing around in the wind and that you just have to listen to hear them resonated with me.

From the start, I knew that “Blowin’ in the Wind” was a protest song, that the wind was a metaphor for a rising countercultural movement in the ’60s. But for years, I heard the song solely as a lyric.

Now I experience the song differently when I hear it on my iPhone and put the lyric in today’s context. After Dylan’s acoustic guitar opens the song, his voice is remarkably melodic and softly insistent.

As he sings, the line that catches my ear reminds me not to overlook what’s right in front of us:

“Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head / and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

Many of us walk past people living on the sidewalk asking for money and either ignore them or never see them. That’s what makes the song so special: The words constantly take on fresh meaning.

But much depends on where you hear them. In 1978, I went to my first Dylan concert in Augusta, Maine. He performed “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it wasn’t quite the same as hearing his original recording.  There were too many people there for the song to be personal, and the song’s intent was brought down to an earthly level. Like the wind, the song is best experienced alone.

~ Elizabeth StroutElizabeth Strout on ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, As a writer grows up, a Dylan song changes meaning. (wsj.com, July 11, 2017).  Elizabeth Strout, 61, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of six novels, including her latest, “Anything Is Possible” and her Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge.


Notes:

  • Photo of Elizabeth Strout
  • Inspired by: True singing is a different breath, about nothing. A gust inside the god. A wind.” By Rainer Maria Rilke, “Sonnet I.III,” in Duino Elegies & The Sonnets To Orpheus.

Walking Cross-Town. Or, on the Highway to Hell?

It’s late evening, the sun is setting, the end of a long day. I’m sitting in a Metro North train car on my commute home reflecting on the day. Cool air streams down from the overhead vents.

Summer has arrived in Manhattan, and despite this 23 square mile piece of land being surrounded on all sides by water, the Island can be 10-20° F hotter than it is at home in the suburbs – billions of tons of concrete, steel and asphalt broiling under the late day Sun.

I had read his essay the prior week, and it was still rooting its way into my core, into the marrow of my bones.  I flip open my e-reader to re-read the passages that I have highlighted in George Yancy’s “Is Your God Dead?” where he speaks to leaving our God in our places of worship or in our good intentions.  [Read more…]

Lightly child, lightly.

This question is addressed not to Muslims, not to Arabs, but to all the children of Adam and Eve. […] There is no need to “acquire” religious knowledge. There’s only the need to let it go: let go of the egoism, the sexism, the nationalism, the tribalism. Then the inner jewel of our hearts will shine. […] Let us also answer yes. Let us also recover these jewels in our hearts and in our traditions. Here’s the challenge we find ourselves in. All of us have to drink from waters that run deep. And we have to also engage and purify the very fountains that we are drinking from. Let us dedicate ourselves to cleansing these ancient fountains.

Yes, there are real jewels in each of our traditions. And they are all covered in filth and junk that is centuries old. In some ways, the jewels shine today as they have always shone. There is a light that’s too bright to be put out. At the very same time, the filth and shit of racism, tribalism, nationalism, colonialism, classism continues to cover the jewels. There is a jewel inside our own hearts. That jewel, the inner divine knowledge, also shines so bright. It too has to be purified from the filth of egoism, sexism, and greed.

Let us wash these jewels,
you and I.

Let us rinse these jewels,
you and I.

Let us polish these jewels,
you and I.

Let us be in awe of our own inner light,
you and I.

We dive, and keep diving, into these oceans, picking out dirty jewels.

We curate these jewels and think about which jewels, which stories, which teachings, which practices are worth passing on to our children. So many are. Not all of them are.

There will be a polishing that our own children will have to do. We may be too deeply immersed in some of the filth to see it.

Let us be divers after pearls, friends.

Let us cleanse the fountains we drink from.

And then we will be able to sing together:

This little light of mine,
I am gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine,
I am gonna let it shine.

~ Omid Safi, from Our Traditions Are Gems Covered in Centuries of Junk (Onbeing.org, June 14, 2017)


Notes:

  • Photo: gosia janik (Madrid, Spain) with “I co teraz?” via mennyfox55
  • Prior “Lightly child, lightly” Posts? Connect here.
  • 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.”

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

A sewer cleaner cleans road manholes near Jatrabari Dhaka in Bangladesh. For this one-day work, the cleaner gets about $8. (KM Asad, Human Press, wsj.com June 16, 2017)

%d bloggers like this: