More Questions than Answers
After a long, cold, and icy winter, it’s spring here in Boston. The light has changed, making the sky somehow lighter and further away; if you find a spot out of the wind you might actually feel some real warmth from the sun; and in my neighbor’s miniscule front garden a band of hardy crocuses (croci?) have adorned themselves with purple buds. The birds didn’t have to be told twice, and they are singing, tweeting, cawing, and flying around with new home building and speed dating on their minds.
Spring is change, new life, excitement. Taking off the heavy leather, the bulky down, searching the ads for some new running shoes.
And spring also makes me think of death. But in a good way.
For it’s just because we change that we are creatures that die. The opposites are not “life and death,” but “birth and death,” and “life” contains them both.
The fear of death, many have observed, poisons life. But that, of course, is only half the story. The fear of death, the desire for some kind of immortality, the deep need for some kind of control, might be the source of a lot of what we think makes us human. Of art and science, religion and technology. Maybe even families, as well.
Let me live a little longer, a little better, we plead with the doctors. And if I can’t then let me live, as they say in Fame, forever in my art. Or let me dream, like James Taylor sings, of a “home in the sky”—which I’ll call heaven, or reincarnation, or dwelling in the Godhead. And if none of that works, at least my children will carry on my name, my values, and my tradition.
What would it be like to really accept how temporary all this is? That whatever else we don’t know, or can’t be sure of, we know that we’re only here for a little while? Would it take the pressure off—to control, accomplish, to Be Somebody? And make us a lot more relaxed and fun to be around? Or would it reduce us to animal level, as we gradually abandoned all the things we work for: knowledge, nationality, ethnic pride, family heritage?
It would depend, I suspect, on what we think of what’s left. If the ‘I,’ in all its collective as well as individual forms, is really temporary, can we appreciate what we have? If things aren’t better because they are eternal, because nothing is eternal, can life still be a mystery and a miracle? Even if it isn’t going to last very long, isn’t the cardinal’s shrill spring cry still a wonder? Even if this blog, and all my books and articles and lectures, will in cosmic time be snuffed out and remembered no more that I remember individual snowflakes, wasn’t it fun while it lasted? If all those things that we say, with remarkably false chutzpah, will last forever in fact probably won’t last even 50,000 years (things like America, Beethoven, Judaism, or Shakespeare), can’t we love them today?
Think about it. And then forget about it and go look at some flowers.