Tag Archives: Philosophy

A before-and-after moment at 4:15 a.m.

I’ve been reminded recently how life changes in a moment. One minute, life is one way. The next, it’s turned upside down.

We had such a moment at 4:15 this morning. This moment didn’t change my life so much as it changed someone else’s but it’s illustrative of my point.

We’re camping this week in my cousin-in-law’s yard. It’s idyllic. Nice level lot, protected from the wind, a well-manicured yard. The cousin-in-law offered to let me use her brand new washer and dryer and her husband shared the fresh produce from his garden–ah, the comforts of home one misses when one is living in an RV.

idyllic corn

The idyllic scene that greets me when I emerge from my camper in the mornings.

The cousin-in-law’s yard out is in the middle of a corn field. The front yard is a stretch of county road between Hither and Yon, but the other three sides are bordered by seven feet of corn. I swear, it grew a foot this week. The corn even muffles all sound except the birds and the bees. Literally, the chirping of the birds and the chittering of insects is the only thing you hear out here, punctuated occasionally by the engine noise of a car speeding by.

This story is about that placid corn and speeding cars.

At 4:15 a.m., my Beloved awakens me with an urgent question, “What was that?!”

“I didn’t hear anything,” I murmured.

He jumps out of bed, throwing on his clothes. I’m becoming more alert now.

“Honey, you’re dreaming,” I said. “You’re putting your underwear on backwards.”

“No, I heard a car go into the ditch,” he says. “I heard the tires squeal and a crash.”

“I left the flashlight where it belongs,” I said, rolling over.

I wasn’t interested in investigating a dream.

But a car did indeed go into the ditch and crash.

My Beloved called 911, and within minutes, 10 emergency vehicles were on the scene.

license plate

The “scene” was only 50 feet from my cousin-in-law’s house, between two light poles. Mr. E754145 left the pavement, entered the corn field and was launched airborne. This is where he went in, losing his license plate.

corn inside

And this is where he landed, roughly 30 feet further on.

crash scene

The bare patches in the foreground indicate where the car went off the road; the string of corn stalks trailing from the field to the road show where the car was towed out of the field.

I think Mr. E754145 is alive to tell the story. My Beloved heard him try the ignition as he was calling 911, so he was at least conscious after crash landing. He didn’t hit a pole. The corn softened his landing. But in any case, his car was intact and operational and so was he at 4:14 a.m. At 4:16, he had to be stretchered away, and the car was towed.

Before and after.

Life can change in a minute.

Examining the shine of the sun

There’s nothing like a little astronomy for making a person feel small and her problems seem insignificant.

I had the opportunity the other day to participate in a solar viewing. Conveniently, solar viewings occur during the day so I didn’t even have to contend with contagious yawning.

In this particular solar viewing, the telescope was set up with a hydrogen alpha filter. Such filters permit only red-orange light and prevent our puny human eyes from going blind, which is what happens when you look directly into the unfiltered sun. (Remember those fifth-grade homemade pinhole boxes that allowed you see a solar eclipse back when you were a kid? The ones your teacher warned you to use instead of looking directly into the sun because you could go blind? Those weren’t empty threats, nosiree, the sun is actually that powerful.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The majesty of the size of the earth began as we drove up a mountain to get to the telescope. Because telescopes on mountains have less atmosphere with which to contend, the celestial spectacle is all the better. At the top of that mountain with a view of 50 miles or more, I could literally see the curvature of the earth.

But just barely.

This enormous round orb on which we live is so large, one can barely get high enough on its craggy surface to see its roundness.

Then, before I got my turn looking at the sun through this hydrogen alpha-filtered telescope, the telescope technician (making up his title here, but you get the gist — regular people can’t operate hydrogen alpha-filtered telescopes) pointed to an illustration that showed the size of the Earth in comparison to the sun. The sun was two feet across, and the earth was barely more than a dab I could make with end of a wet Q-tip.

So this earth that just minutes before had awed me with its size barely registers in comparison to the sun.

Which pretty much makes me an ant in the industrial-sized employee kitchen of an Amazon distribution facility.

Or something like that.

Enough with Q-tips and Amazon.

I get my turn to look through the telescope directly at the sun and I see this small reddish-orange circle against a dark reddish background.

“Can you see any prominences?” the technician asks.

A prominence, for those of you who have forgotten your college astronomy lessons because they required too much math, is a brilliant eruption of super hot plasma from the sun’s edge that can extend sometimes thousands of miles into space.

In other words, prominences are the little lines you drew around the circle in the sky you made with the yellow-orange Crayon when you drew a picture of your house in kindergarten. A prominence is the visible phenomena we imagine when we think of the sun’s rays.

“Hmm, it looks smooth to me,” I said, pulling my face away from the telescope.

The technician who expected great oohs and aahs gave me a puzzled look. Then he realized he was looking at woman who might possibly be old enough to have (slightly) failing eyesight.

“Oh! You can adjust the focus right here,” pointing to a dial that looks exactly what you might use on a pair of binoculars to sharpen the view. Even though I’m not a hydrogen alpha-filtered telescope technician, I was allowed to adjust this dial.

“Oh my God,” I said.

I think using the Lord’s name was appropriate in this setting.

I could see prominences now, eight minutes and 20 seconds after they appeared (that’s how long it takes the sun’s light to reach earth). Magnificent slow-motion flame-shaped features circled the sun. Just one of them dwarfed that little dab that represented the size of the earth in comparison to the sun.

It was awesome. In the traditional definition of that word, not the cool kids’ use of it.

Suddenly, my little life, occurring in the blink of an eye of the life of the sun, seemed, well, less than little. I’m just a bug crawling on the face of the earth. And whatever I think is so important right now really isn’t relevant. At all.

Knowing my speckitude (not a word, but I’m making it one now) was actually quite comforting. Like, I can quit worrying about wasting my time or ruining anything. I’m not not that big or powerful.

In the end, the sun still shines.

Flutter

Best piece of advice I’ve heard in, like, five years:

“Flutter on the wings of a butterfly.”

Meaning, you can’t control most things in life anyway so go with the flow.

I remember adopting this attitude nine years ago when I left my first husband and began dating the man who would become my Beloved. I loved that fearless, bring-it-on perspective, and when I heard the flutter-butterfly line this morning, I thought, “Yeah, let go of the control freak. Be one with the chaos.”

To be clear, my life right now is in a big comfortable rut — no divorce, no multi-state move, no career change, no health challenge — but going with the flow means gliding with the lulls and appreciating the quiet, too.

The early evening light is finally beginning to feel like summer. The sun even poked out from behind the clouds today. Memorial Day weekend is a week away.

May the butterflies alight on summer’s flowers.

Powerless to do anything other than grin, bear it … and shovel

A week ago I was sitting by the pool, eating Chex Mix and soaking in the afternoon rays. I was in Florida, it was November, and I wasn’t drinking cocoa. Me. Minnesota Transplant.

I return to my transplanted home in Illinois, and it wasn’t pool weather. The trees were bare. But I didn’t need mittens either. I could tolerate it.

Then my Facebook feed, seeded with friends from Minnesota, blows up with, what is this? Snow. Not just flurries. Snow you measure with rulers! Words like snow day and arctic blast and snowmageddon litter posts.

weather map

Maybe I’ve gotten soft since I moved away from Minnesota (that’s what happens when things warm up), but it seems like Nov. 10 is too early for a blizzard.

Then I saw on the NBC Nightly News a glimpse of what I think is the quintessential attitude of a Minnesotan.

Standing on the street (presumably Forest Lake) and leaning on a shovel, a blond in a plaid (of course) jacket says:

“It’s gonna happen one way or another. I guess it’s good to just get it out of the way.”

I almost spewed my cocoa on the big screen. That’s fatalism, you betcha.

P.S. It’s not snowing in Florida.

My own personal tsunami

“Being on tour is like being in limbo. It’s like going from nowhere to nowhere.”

~ Bob Dylan

While I haven’t been on tour the past week, I feel a little like Minnesota native Bob Dylan might: In limbo.

Going from nowhere to nowhere (like a rolling stone?), I feel like I’ve been treading in pudding. A colleague suggested to me that everyone chooses their own personal tsunami — an event that turns the world upside down — as an opportunity for transformation.

Isn’t it interesting to view a giant wave of water that flattens everything in its path as an opportunity?

The times, they are a-changin’.

Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward, one step back. Remember that and be very gentle with yourself.”

~ Julia Cameron

 

Philosophical grab bag

Friday potpourri …

  • “I can’t wait until my moustache touches my beard,” said my Adored stepson who, at nearly 20, is still obsessed with his body hair.
  • Speaking of being overvalued: OpenTable, the online restaurant booking business, is worth $2.6 billion? With a B? Does that strike anyone else as excessive? Apparently Priceline is making a lot of money helping travelers save theirs because it’s paying $2.6 billion in cash for OpenTable. Every time I hear about another tech company valuation, I scoff. I mean really, are those stupid Facebook ads actually selling anything other than page likes?
  • Talk about expensive. Did you know Tostitos Hint of Lime tortilla chips have 150 calories per serving? And that a serving is six — yes, only six! — chips? We’re a nutrition-label obsessed household right now; Adored stepson is counting protein grams in order to support his weight-lifting regimen. Of course, my guacamole grew irresistibly tastier when I realized how few corn chips I could allow myself.
  • Here’s the real scandal: Women in India are risking their lives when they have a bowel movement because some maniac is raping and murdering them by attacking them when they are pooping in an open field, according to a story I heard on National Public Radio this week. Why are they defecating in a field? They don’t have a toilet at home. In fact, one of every 2 people in India defecates out in the open, the highest rate in the world. Makes you appreciate the four bathrooms in your home on your list to clean, huh?
  • As long as we’re counting our blessings … I wore a necklace I haven’t worn in a long time today. I have enough necklaces that I could wear a different one every day of the month, but I got to this one in my rotation today. It is adorned with tiny cubic zirconias, set in such as way as to see both the pointy bottom and the flat top of the stone. Curious question: Why is the flat top of a diamond the top? Why isn’t the pointy bottom featured (as it is in this necklace)?” Is this true of our good blessings in life, too? Are there “unattractive bottoms” that would be just as appreciated if only they were on display?

I believe

Take courage. We walk in the wilderness today and in the Promised Land tomorrow.

~ D.L. Moody

I had a bolt of realization at church a couple of weeks ago not unlike the apostle Paul’s blinding burst of insight on the road to Damascus. Paul writes of the moment as a revelation.

I wasn’t walking on a desert road nor was I blinded but the revelation that came to my mind has colored my thoughts ever since.

I was sitting in the pew silently weeping. Our new pastor was preaching his first sermon in front of our congregation; he was installed with much pomp later that afternoon.

But I wasn’t thinking much about the new pastor whom I’m sure is a fine fellow. I was thinking of our former pastor who died a little over a year ago and whom this new pastor was replacing.

I had just read in the bulletin that the flowers on the altar were placed there in memory of my former pastor. I thought how nice it was to have him present in some small way at the installation of the new pastor, but I also thought of how I missed my former pastor.

This former pastor welcomed me and my Beloved to his church seven years ago. He married us. He confirm my stepson.

I always try to get to know a pastor when I join a church — to know him beyond his weekly sermons. I got to know this pastor over many miles by running with him in the church Walk-R-Run club. I like to know my pastors just in case they have to bury me. I don’t want a stranger officiating at my funeral. I never expected seven years ago that I might outlive my pastor, not just by a few years but by a few decades.

Now, as I was sitting in the pew in front of a new pastor, I thought the only reason to get to know him would be for the funeral familiarity factor. Beyond the weekly services, I don’t need to be confirmed. I don’t need to be married (I hope I’m done with that). I don’t need him for a baptism either. All that’s left in terms of life events is that funeral.

So I was stewing in the juices of grief when the new pastor said something that made me think about eternity.

I’m going to get theological here so I should warn you, I’m not theologian. But I have a theory. A theory about heaven. Or whatever one calls the place you go when you die.

I believe the body is temporary, but the soul is eternal. For me, “eternal” not only means “without end” but also “without beginning.” I don’t think humans have the power to create souls — bodies, sure, but not souls. When a baby is conceived, its soul comes from somewhere. It’s not created by the union of a sperm and an egg; an eternal soul comes from somewhere to be, to exist in the newly created person.

Following me? To follow my argument so far, you have to believe in the soul, that the spirit is separate from the body (though joined with it in life), that it is eternal and that it comes from someplace — let’s call it heaven.

I don’t remember anything about my existence before I was conceived. I don’t remember anything before I was 5, in fact, but certainly nothing about whatever existence I had before being joined with this body.

So why do I think I will remember anything about my current state when my body is dead? I’m beginning to believe I won’t. Wherever my soul was is where my soul returns, completely unaware of how much I hate Cracker Barrel, how much I love to read, how frustrated I am with my wrinkles, how elated I am when I step into an elevator bound for the top floor. All these strong emotions I have in this earthly body will be meaningless when I’m dead. I will no longer have a body. My soul, without all its earthly bonds, will return to eternity without so much as a backward glance.

Don’t get me wrong here. I still believe our earthly lives are important and meaningful, but I just believe they are important and meaningful here on earth, to our fellow men. We can make a difference, do the right thing, pay attention to the details, be remembered fondly here on earth. None of it matters to our souls once our bodies die.

For now, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12

This concept of an eternal soul without memories of its earthly existence jives with my new view of heaven. I don’t think heaven has streets or feasts or happy reunions with loved ones. Without bodies, we don’t need methods of transportation or clocks or milk-and-honey rivers or parents or spouses or children. Beings with bodies — and hands and feet and eyes and stomachs and sexual desires — need those things. Eternal souls do not.

I don’t know what I believe about individuality but I’m not sure we’re even individuals in the eternal plain. This is a sticking point in my mind that I haven’t yet entirely resolved.

The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord.

~ Psalm 24:1

This philosophy is both disconcerting and comforting. It’s a little disconcerting to think all the people and things so important to me now will not even be the stuff of memories in eternity. But there’s a certain comfort, too, in believing “this, too, shall pass.” If heaven is perfect and pain-free, then all my sorrows will disappear. But then why would my joys, so often rooted in my body (good tastes, beautiful music, physical elation) stick with me?

My former pastor is not sorry to see his congregation welcome a new pastor. It doesn’t matter who buries me. My body is like the flowers on the altar — beautiful and unique. And fleeting. Every moment matters only for right now.

The best we can hope for in this life is a knothole peek at the shining realities ahead. Yet a glimpse is enough. It’s enough to convince our hearts that whatever sufferings and sorrows currently assail us aren’t worthy of comparison to that which waits over the horizon.

~ Joni Eareckson Tada

The art of letting go and flying

An experience recently leads me to reflect on the courage required to let go and embrace something new.

I’ll quite terrible at this skill. I stayed in a not-very-happy-but-not-overwhelming-miserable marriage much too long because I was afraid. Afraid to be different than I thought I was. Afraid to admit I was wrong. Afraid to be alone.

If only I had had the courage to welcome something new into my life. Because I’m wildly content with my second husband. And I never would have met him if I hadn’t had the courage to let go at some point.

A letting-go-and-taking-hold midair moment is occurring in the fringe of my existence now, too, and I’m wishing for courage for some people who need to embrace something new.

There’s a great quote I can’t find right now about the moment a trapeze artist lets go of one swing but hasn’t yet grasped the next one (the circus aerialist has mastered this with the greatest of ease). Instead, I’ll share this post from the summer of 2012, when it was a lot warmer in the Midwest than it is now …

Letting go

A couple of experiences in the last 24 hours remind me of this Buddhist concept:

With every breath, we live; with every exhale, we die.

It was nearly 100 degrees again yesterday, and I spent the evening swimming in Lake Minnetonka with my stepson, my Beloved and a new friend (who had access to a great pontoon boat).

The lake was calm, the water was warm, a loon called while we enjoyed the sunset. It was one of those rare well-lived moments when everything was right with the world.

This new friend’s attitude influenced me, I’m sure of it, because she talked about being a caregiver this spring for a friend of hers who died 8 weeks after being diagnosed with ALS, the horrible disease that slowly (or quickly, I guess) robs one of the ability to move, then speak, then breathe. His sudden demise when he said “I have so much living yet to do” was painful. Now, she was vowing to live in the moment and soak up every joy of summer — on this evening, she was soaking with some friends on her pontoon.

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The habit of housekeeping elevates the mundane to the sublime

The Power of the Mundane resonates with me.

Rachael at Frugal Faye blogs about this in “The Power of the Mundane: Why I Love Housekeeping.”

She describes the Power of the Mundane as “sameness and routine that creates that sense of ‘this is how life is,'” and she argues that there is beauty in housekeeping exactly because it involves “repeated activities that are completed predictably over and over and over”:

“The cumulative years of those daily activities: cooking dinner, folding laundry, tidying up all matter. In a frantic, unpredictable world, these monotonous chores and exercises are comfort and stability.”

Is that the most beautiful description of housekeeping you’ve ever heard?

It makes so much sense to laud the power of repetition, however boring it may be. Exercising or eating a banana for breakfast can be boring, too, but exercising every day or eating fruit for breakfast every morning can change your health. Socking away a little bit of every paycheck in a 401(k) plan is not nearly as fun as spending it, but do that with every paycheck and in time, you’ll have a nest egg worth thousands of dollars. Arriving on time to work, lunch dates and appointments takes constant effort, but over time, it earns you a reputation of dependability.

Mahatma Gandhi knew the power of repetition, too, when he said: “Your actions become your habits, your habits become your values.”

Among my “what matters” resolutions this year is to “Make a comfortable home: Cook, clean, decorate, organize.”

It is not exactly the sort of resolution I would have made 10 years ago when I aspired to climb the corporate ladder and I was married to a man who did almost all the housekeeping.

But I am in a different place with a new man now. Part of my desire to create a comfortable home is altruistic (because I know my Beloved values it) and part of it is selfish (because if I’m going to spend as much time in my home as I do, it might as well be clean and pretty). Mucking out and redecorating my home office last year reminded me how peaceful a beautiful space can be.

The cooking part of the resolution is easier for me. Cooking is creative. I love assembling various ingredients I happen to have on hand into a creative dish (like frittata or soup). I love garnishes, too. Even when it’s just me and my Beloved, the plate is not complete unless it’s sprinkled with parsley or there’s a pickle on it, and I love putting dip into little metal cups on my plate.

Still, I hate housekeeping. Hate, hate, hate. But I realize if I want to achieve this resolution to make a comfortable home, I need to figure out how to make peace with these repetitive tasks.

Do I want to be known as the grumpy woman with a clean house or the cheerful lady with a clean house? The house deserves to be neat and clean in any case; I have the power to change my attitude.

I am reminded of what Thich Nhat Hanh writes about washing dishes in Peace is Every Step:

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water and each movement of my hands.”

I shall attempt to harness the Power of the Mundane this year and be mindful about housekeeping. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my little place in it.

If it ain’t easy, it ain’t meant to be

Most of us Americans get an extra hour tonight.

I’m already planning to sleep through it.

But what if we all had an extra hour every day?

Would you use it well?

Or would life’s minutia fill it, just like it fills Hour 24 now? Or Hour 23 for that matter?

Or maybe all your hours are already well lived.

Mine? I’m not sure.

Someone close to me (meaning, someone who should know) recently told me I was driftless. Then he amended himself and said “drifting, I meant drifting.”

Apparently, I’m riding high on the tides of time. I’m not frantically rowing my canoe to shore like a finalist on “Survivor.” No, I’m drifting, like the would-be contestant who never actually finished his audition tape.

There’s a little irony to this because I used to be driven, as in hard-nosed, hard-pressed and hard-edged. And I wasn’t all that happy. So I adopted a new attitude: If it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t meant to be. After a few years of practice, I now take life as it comes, I try to enjoy the present moment, I’m a little bit of a fatalist. This means I resist less, which doesn’t necessary mean I’m irresistible (but maybe … with some people … on the right day … I might be irresistible).

I’m going with the flow. And that sounds a lot better than drifting, even though it’s pretty much the same thing. Because to be honest, the flow is pretty sweet right now. The water’s warm. Let’s go for a swim.

May your extra hour bring you more of whatever it is you already have (and here’s hoping it’s something good).