When I was growing up, my father at dinner would ask us—each of the five kids in turn, going around the table—what did we do to improve the world today? And I remember feeling squirm-ily inadequate. Even though he always praised us for our paltry attempts to improve the world—“I babysat for Mrs. So-and-so,” “That’s helping!”—I held myself to a higher standard. Apparently his innocent question resonated with something deeper inside of me. And I thought everyone wrestled with this question.
I remember asking a boyfriend when I was in high school if he wondered what it was all for—an off-the-cuff question for me because of course everyone puzzled over this. I was shocked when he not only said “no”, but further said that if he ever did think about it he would probably just tie a rock around his neck and throw himself into a lake. Huh? It’s your duty to worry about the meaning of your life. I mean you can’t just live it, can you? As I get older, I realize that most people pretty much just live it and try to enjoy doing so, as far as I can see.
So is life a gift to be enjoyed, or a responsibility to be lived up to? What makes a good life?
Me, I lean toward the responsibility end of the spectrum, but every now and then I get moments of just living it and I must say, it feels like playing hooky—no wondering if you’re doing it right—no wondering if you’re living up to whatever you’ve been put on this earth to do…It’s a great and freeing feeling, but I also know that it is only, for me, the responsibility that gives the gift its value.
So I think what makes a good life is becoming a person you want to be with—realizing that you’re fine just the way you are.
I’m not getting the impression that our Congress is feeling the effects of their own incompetence. What can make it more real for them, I ask myself? Then I think: Let’s send them all to the Space Station.
There they will eat freeze-dried food and be in uncomfortably close quarters. They can talk to each other or not, but until they work something out, they have to stay there. Maybe they will stare at the round globe of Earth, pushing and shoving each other out of the way to get the best view from the little portholes. And maybe, after a month or so of this, they will notice that the Earth intrinsically does not have borders or blue states and red states or Muslim countries or Christian countries.
And maybe after another month of being in the dark vastness of space, they will perceive the miracle of this planet that sustains life and how fragile it has become. Eventually, sick of eating freeze-dried ice cream, they may (the more with-it ones) come to grasp that, actually, there’s isn’t any other place we can live. And that to destroy the Earth, is to destroy our species (not to mention many others.)
Then maybe they will begin to talk and to compromise and to learn to get along. And that’s when we will let them come back, to join us at the adult table.
I thought about using a photo of the monkey that Russia sent into space here, but then I realized that would be maligning the monkey.
I am somewhere in western central Pennsylvania. As I look out the window of the Econoline van in which I am a passenger, I see miles of forest and white snowy ground. The forest looks youngish—50 or so years old. And I wonder if all of this part of Pennsylvania was deforested before. It is a grim landscape, empty of human habitation except for deer blinds dotting the pencil forest. I can’t decide if the grimness is the lack of human touch or the ghost of too much human touch. Too much mining and logging: too much poverty, both natural and human.
The deer blinds speak of, not sport, but necessity. The need to eat during the long winter months. The grinding hardship of not enough.
The possibility inherent the Northeast, where I live, is scrapped here by the absolute necessity of simply existing. The luxury of liberality has not yet made its appearance. This is a land of iron and coal, of solid and heavy values. This is the sea anchor to the East coast’s flights of fancy. The flights of fancy which in turn, lift up the heavy practicality of the Midwest.
And so I realize that we all contribute. We need each other.