Monday, December 15, 2008

Big Questions and Little Trinkets

Current Reading: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch

Inspirational Quote: "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." -- Mitch Albom

A number of things have been on my mind lately, all of a theme.
  • "The Last Lecture," as mentioned above and available on YouTube here. It's been said that the only good thing that comes of jumping off a cliff is the way the mind becomes wonderfully concentrated. All the big questions resolve themselves into one: "How am I going to get out of this alive?" It remains just as difficult to answer as the Big Questions (Who am I? Why am I here?) but has the advantage of being eminently practical. The future ceases to be this big, nebulous whirl of possibilities and becomes a single, accelerating certainty. And of course, the final moments are full of event, which can substitute for revelation if one is in a hurry. Randy Pausch died. He wasn't happy about it, but in the months beforehand he threw away all the fears and hesitations that rule most lives and just got on with living while he could.
  • A short presentation on Living in the Moment, offered by work to combat stress. There's a lot of stress at work these days, as I'm sure there is in every workplace as we watch the economy swirl and flush. Dr. Pausch discovered how to live in the moment when the nearness of his death forced him to realize that time, a series of moments, was all he had. I'd like to be able to do that, but I have no desire to die in order to achieve that kind of enlightenment. The presentation suggested meditation, which I've tried with moderate success. After a time, my thoughts give way either to dial tone, or a selection of old Carpenter's songs suitable for playing in elevators or dentist's offices.
  • The fact that I'm just over forty and thus developmentally predisposed toward pondering the Big Questions. I've read that the mid-life crisis may have a hormonal basis, that there are biological changes in men just as there are in women but we deal with them by buying Porsches and getting divorces instead of overheating and spontaneously weeping. I'm not into sports cars at all and I'm in love with my wife. Consequently I find myself with no idea what to do. It's a little frustrating.
  • I won a "Family Entertainment Basket" in a raffle yesterday. A friend brought in some tickets his daughter was selling to raise money for the local swim team. I bought a ticket as a kindness. I'm now the somewhat perplexed owner of Kung Fu Panda on DVD, a game of Trouble (of which we already have one), a horde of gift cards, a couple of Christmas tree ornaments, a candle in a can and a humorous salt and pepper set (a pair of ceramic Santa feet sticking up out of a ceramic chimney). Honestly: how exactly is a candle in a can fun for the family? I suppose we could go around the house setting fire to things, but I can see where that would get old and expensive very fast. I'm keeping the DVD (fun movie), donating the game to the local toy drive, and applying the gift cards where needed. I have no idea what to do with the other items, though. I think they're symptomatic of a general societal malaise, the tendency to accumulate stuff as a safe and easy substitute for the search for meaning. I don't like a lot of stuff. It makes it hard to find the things I'm looking for. The original Ulysses may have been Ithacan, but this one is more of a Spartan in temperament. The items are completely impractical, and their ability to inspire humor lasted about fifteen seconds. I could give them away, but I can't imagine who would want them or why.

Maybe I'll sign them "Bill Shatner," and put them on E-Bay. Now THAT would be funny... and probably profitable.

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