(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…]

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 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.

 


Notes:

  • Photo: Ellen Shumilova
  • 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.”

Running. With Pus.

Location: South Beach.
Temperature: 74° F. Humidity: 70%. Wind: 5-12 mph and gusting.
Run Plan: 11 miles.
Time: 6:45 am.

This is Dad and Daughter’s second run in preparation for her 1/2 marathon in two weeks. Run 1 here: Running. 10, on Good Friday.

Mile 1.0: The shoe-to-sock-to-skin chafing is working up a blister, not on one foot, but on the ball of each foot. With each step, the fluid-filled bubbles form from the friction, the high humidity, the sweaty feet, the damp sweat socks. The result? A stinging bite with each footfall. So early in the run, a (very) bad sign. Wore the wrong shoes, and paying a hefty price. Mind rolls forward, I’m in the bathroom post-run, in awe at how anxious I am to prick the juicy, squishy bubble, when I know I will be suffering with each step for days.  Awed again at the creation of this pus, it’s as clear as the run-off from a mountain stream in Spring. Miracle really, my mind and its workings, and this pus, this beautiful liquid created from something so raw and painful, and the healing process begins.

Mile 2.0: Feral cats meander on the boardwalk.  Lady with wild hair (and wild eyes) feeds them Li’l Nibbles Dry Cat Food from a Ziploc plastic bag, scooping a handful, and letting the nibbles slide out of her hand like sand from an hourglass. Cats watch from a distance, hungry but wary. She organizes the nibbles in the shape of a half moon, and walks to the next drop zone, eyes stare blankly ahead. [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…]

Monday Morning: Brush Your Teeth

A gum massage.
A teeth cleaning.
Then breakfast: A fruit salad.
Watch his eyes during the massage and brushing…

As we get up this morning, he…

A man smokes his pipe in the remains of his bedroom in Aleppo, Syria.


Source: Joseph Eid, Agence France-Presse, March, 10, 2017. wsj.com).  Inspired by:

“There is a certain tone in the things that matter, an architecture of delayed light or slow sounds from long ago. Fragments for the after-silence, the sorting of a garden. Things in their essence. Spiritual forms, an invisible geometry of objects that gives strength to us through music…Whispered petitions to show us the way or to destroy us completely. Every word a last word. Every sound a revenant.”

— Herbert Pföstl, On my Sanctuary Place (Maharam.com)

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