WG says, “Don’t worry about anything until you get back. Just let me know what is the meaning to life!” He imagines, bless his heart, that lying on the beach in the warm Mediterranean sun will reveal to me arcane secrets of the universe. His reassuring words remind me of a statement from 40 years ago: BR explains he want to South American to “find the meaning of life.” Even as a 14-year-old I have a visceral reaction to such glib commentary.
“Did you find it?” I ask BR with all the snarkiness of indolent adolescence. IMHO the meaning of life is not a semi-precious jewel to dig up, discover, polish off as “found.” I decide the meaning of my life. You decide the meaning of yours. A good decision creates a priceless life. A bad decision? Not so much. For those who decline to decide, fear not. The decision will be made for us, whether we like it or not. I swear I don’t make this shit up. There are people who tell me a good woman is “feminine” read docile, submissive, domestic. Other people contend a good woman is wild, radical, chock full of goddess knows what.
I’m in strange company when I say the meaning of life is self-assigned not self-assured. No less than Richard Feynman says “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.” I would add that nothing is very interesting if I study superficially. Even religion is boring if I take it on faith. My natural perversity leads me to question curiously. In this way I am never bored. Seriously. Never.
Interest in personal growth began with a mediocre childhood. My intact family is middle-class, reasonably stable and nuanced with adventures. The reason I grade me a “C” on the Bell curve is because my parents, bless-their-hearts, are hardly flimsy stuff for a sensitive child. They stiffly fail to protect me from my charismatic bully of an older brother. My parents, are decent without being particularly empathetic. Nothing could have prepared them for what I go through, as a mixed race child in a monocultural world. I grew up neither Japanese (like my mother), nor Singhalese (like my father), nor American (like my classmates.)
I spend my life answering the question: “No, where are you really from?” grrrr. Truly at a loss as how to answer. I suspect even now that if one of my parents had been from Peru and the other from Czechoslovakia, that my skin tone and accent would exempt me from examination. Accent alone (which is American I assure you) affords me no protection. I react by sticking my nose in a book. Studying is interesting. I aim to have an interesting life. Boring is as boring does don’t you think? At 18 I flee the MidWest for the South Pacific where mixed race is the norm not the exception.
There I find plenty of beaches where one might lie and discover the meaning of life. I certainly meet a plethora of metaphysical characters. I conclude nothing is really good or bad just religion makes it so. Religion is the morality of lazy people. If monogamy doesn’t feel natural, it probably isn’t. If people are meant to be paired like the animals on the Ark, then divorce and polygamy wouldn’t exist. Right? Am I right? Which is not to say I need more than one partner. . . .
My point is, and I do have one – is that I don’t wish for a mate to be chafing and hating restraint – nor did i like when my first husband cheated, emotionally or physically. We are a bad match. An observation, not a moral judgement. What I want is someone who wants to be with me. For all y’all who gonna say “but that’s so co-dependent, so anti-feminist and all that crap” I say I’ll be the judge of that.
Receiving the love of a loving other has fabulous healing powers. As a person with a C grade childhood I was, as a young adult, desperately seeking authentic love. My hunger made me vulnerable. I weather exploitation before striking gold. The shame is not my search so much as the prevailing culture. “Love yourself first!” friends and therapists alike advise me. But how? How is one who is not loved to know how to love? There’s a Gordian knot. If you, like me, had less than a supportive childhood – if you are a misfit, a nerd, a dweeb, a socially awkward person I have concrete advice:
I start with the moments the cashier pronounces my name correctly. I savor that. She’s making an effort to be kind. Kindness is the genesis of love. I acknowledge the barista who says “hello” and “goodbye.” I recognize the recognition. Being seen is being real. Even if the association is artificial: a church picnic, a company retreat I remember the reality of being included. I install experiences into my hard drive that express connection, acceptance. I say, “Isn’t this nice?” This is meditation 101 for the partially bereaved. Practice, practice, practice. Five times as many good associations to every one bad make a wash. I need six or a hardy seven to get ahead.
But this is just the intro. The yogis have an advanced meditation for the intrepid practitioner. The practice of holding a good memory beside a bad one, neutralizing the effect. This is fragile intimate explosive stuff – but not too hard for me, nor you. As I drive I consider my own mortality. Why not? For this moment I’m safe in my car. I consider ironically my safety with my mortality. Isn’t this nice? A life worth living needs to be valued before I can be of value. Without considering my own death, how can I put a premium on my life? I need not wait until I’m lying on the beach to hold these thoughts paradoxically.
Lord knows I might want to think of something else as the sun sets. In fact I rarely think of the meaning of my life when I’m watching the sun set or the moon rise. I’m too busy frankly, too busy thinking “Isn’t this wonderful?” and goddess knows what.
Now y’all play nice