Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday Morning Musings

I'm not sure when I started obsessing about life and how quickly it seems to pass as I get older. It has definitely been a bigger blip on my radar since I turned 40.

When you are 20, you feel immortal and the world awaits you. Yet, if you can manage to make it through four consecutive average cat life cycles from that point, you are indeed lucky.

The unfortunate event on March 1st when I broke a number of bones in my face, the resulting surgery a bit more than 2 weeks later, and then my 50th birthday a month later, have all had an impact on how I view life. It seems so much more fragile now than it ever has before. The reality is that any of our seemingly stable lives can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. Moreover, it is inevitable. The older we get, the greater the odds that we are on the cusp of a shattering event.

This understanding, which bears down upon me without my approval, is truly maddening sometimes. I see other people carrying on with their happy lives in what appears to be blissful ignorance of reality. I wish I could be like them. But are they all really unaware? Do they just have a more effective method of dealing with it and suppressing the associated emotions and anxiety?

We spend our lives gathering stuff: material possessions, friendships, and memories. We stuff our brains full of music, films, books, travels, sports scores, work experiences, Excel spreadsheet functions, HTML code, user IDs, passwords, credit card numbers, and expiration dates.

Our closets are packed with clothing and boxes in which stuff was delivered. Most people can't even use their garages because they are overflowing with possessions. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. My mother still remembers a time when she only had what was truly needed. She remembers her father telling the story of the first time he ever saw a motor car. He was so frightened he hid in a ditch. Running water and electricity inside the home were new luxuries, and still out of reach for many.

In that short span of time we have evolved into a people who have been born into such luxuries and take them for granted. We no longer need to hunt and gather for survival. Millions of us sit in a chair each day, tapping our fingers on plastic to manipulate data. And millions of us are paid well for it. But not in cash.

Someone else is tapping their fingers on plastic buttons to transfer "money" from one place to another place. When my place receives this transfer, I can then tap my fingers to move it from my place to the place which owns my house. Never having to lay eyes upon currency is a luxury.

I buy my food by swiping a piece of plastic through a chunk of plastic. That's how I get my groceries, my housewares, and fuel for my car so I can drive around and buy all this stuff. Quite amazing.

I don't even need to leave my house for a lot of the stuff I get. Tap tap tap on the plastic, select something you desire on a screen, type in a few numbers which gives instructions to computers to transfer a bunch of numbers from one place to another, and voila! A few days later, stuff comes to your door in a brown truck. And all of this is achieved by data passing through the air, or wires, at the speed of light.

Even in my lifetime, I remember how labor-intensive it was to gather information. I actually had to get up, get in the car, and drive to another building which housed thousands of books. I had to flip through drawers packed with thousands of little cards that contained directions to find the book which would contain the information I needed. And that was all well and good as long as someone else hadn't borrowed the book. There was even a human there to help you, if you needed it. Free of charge!

Now it is possible to gather data on a little chunk of plastic that you can carry with you, and tap on, or so I've read on this big piece of plastic I'm staring at as I tap these thoughts on my plastic buttons -- soon to be available for reading by anyone in the world fortunate enough to have a similar plastic device and viewing screen. You can even do this while you are driving around, buying shit you don't need, and swiping plastic to pay for it. Amazing!

What a world we live in, however briefly against the longer timeline of existence.

In this world of wonder and achievement, I am truly baffled that I can be so depressed. I don't just see the beauty and the wonder; I see everything. While this world in which we live would be unrecognizable to my grandparents in their youth, a few things haven't changed at all. Things like greed.

If we were truly immortal, or even if we could live 500 years, or 300 years, I could understand the concept of greed more easily than I can from my perspective of life at 50.

I am truly aghast that greed remains as pervasive and unevolved as it is. Greed is what compels us to do absurd things like drilling a mile deep -- underwater -- for fuel to power these moving boxes of steel we need in order to drive to a bigger, fixed-position box and punch plastic all day so that we can acquire a bunch of other (much smaller) numbers which get shifted around in the ether. After accruing enough of these numbers we call our own, we can drive around and buy stuff.

Greed is what allowed us to come here, take this land, and call it ours. Greed made us establish arbitrary and artificial boundaries, staking poles in the ground, adorned with absolutely meaningless pieces of patterned cloth in order to have what is essentially a meaningless and hollow identity.

Now that we have that, greed is driving us to destroy it. And we're no longer content to take advantage of people from outside our artificial boundaries with identifies different from our own; we seem eager to screw the life out of anything and everything we get our hands on in order to get more personal numbers stacked in our favor, whether it's our neighbors, the fields which grow the food to keep us alive, the water we need to quench our thirst, or the air we breathe.

We seem to have become completely uninterested in the numbers of our brothers and sisters who have had their equally short and fragile lives ended sooner than necessary by greed.

If nothing else, life is about adjusting and adapting to changes. Life is about caring and understanding. Life is about overcoming selfishness and greed. Life is about understanding that we are of the world and not vice-versa, and behaving accordingly. Failure to comprehend these simple facts is criminal. And we seem to be a nation and a world of criminals.

I have my own issues with comprehension. I cannot comprehend how, in this wondrous short time of bounty and achievement, so many of us cannot be content and enjoy our own personal experiences. Instead, we feel a necessity to exploit and control others, and often to focus on the most asinine of restrictions, while allowing all manner of other profligate atrocities to run rampant. I cannot comprehend how this path of greed we have chosen can be sustained much longer, nor can I comprehend how those of us who never ponder the ramifications of our enormous footprint will deal with the reality when it finally does deliver the ultimate smackdown.

On this day, arbitrarily set aside by some authority, in which we are asked to remember those who have fallen (some of whom still were not even allowed to be open and honest about who they were), and as I also include those who gave up a portion of their life, perhaps the best portion of it (and in many cases, a limb or two, if not their entire life), in their gift of service to this relatively recent nation of artificial boundaries conceived of, and awash in, greed, I have to ask myself if it was a truly necessary and noble cause, or simply a more short-sighted exploitation to fulfill a craven lust before casting them aside like spent fuel rods.

Sorry. I know I can come across as a major downer sometimes. But I think a lot. And I will honor our veterans today by saying we need to do everything in our power to stop creating so many of them for unjust causes. Those numbers (a trillion or two) piled up in someone's account which were used to fund the recent and ongoing wars could have been better transferred elsewhere in our relentless pursuit of stuff.

Live and let live, gently, and with responsible awareness and compassion.

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