The Meaning of Life, Part III

Last night there was a little frog hopping about in the parking lot of the church where I go to a 12-step meeting on Saturday nights. I almost stepped on him when he caught Jay’s eye at the same time he caught mine. Jay’s like a hawk when it comes to spotting wildlife. When we’re riding down the road, he’s already seen three groundhogs, bats, and a family of deer while I’m lost in my own world, making images out of the pink clouds before me. I love staring at the sky. It’s different every day.

So this little frog hopped right by, heading straight for impending death, towards the exit where everyone was driving their cars, and I’ve got my mini-flashlight to light the way, and someone’s like, “He’s gonna get splattered!” A couple of the other women and I decided this could not happen, so I just reached right down and picked him up. “He’ll pee on you!” someone warned. I picked up frogs all the time when I was a little girl and never once did one pee on me, but I decided to bite my tongue since this wasn’t a contest to see who was the most outdoorsy, though I’d already decided I’d won, in spite of the fact that I haven’t picked up a frog in years.

Something about picking up that frog really touched my heart. I kind of wanted to kiss his little head and tell him everything would be okay, not to be scared. His little heart was pounding in my enclosed cupped hand, where I hoped he felt safe. Imagine just walking along one day, on your way to work, minding your own business, when suddenly a giant hand scoops you up and next thing you know you’re basically teleported to another world. Turns out it was probably his home, being the woods, and I made sure to walk far enough into the woods (I hope), away from the parking lot so that he wouldn’t be tempted to go back out there and meet his death sooner than necessary. I set him down on the earth, and he just sat there, not moving. I wanted to wait and just watch him, but I decided to leave him alone. That was probably enough craziness for him for one night.

It just made me think of how small we are in the world, how vast the universe, or multiverse really, is. How can someone know for sure this is all there is just because this is all we have proof of, all that we see? This is why I don’t kill the lone ant or bug I see crawling around in my house on occasion—though I must admit that a few years ago I engaged in a battle with an army of ants who thought my kitchen was their home, and many had to die. I have to keep this blog honest. And I felt guilty since their ancestors probably had been living on that land for centuries before someone came along and built a house on it, but I was kind of like, Hey this is my house now, my turf, and there’s just not room for you, not if you’re going to eat my food and dirty the place up. Had they wanted to stay underground that would’ve been fine with me, but they don’t speak English and I don’t speak ant, unfortunately. Hopefully one day we can all speak the same language and learn to live in harmony. As it was, they were probably carpenter ants, which will destroy a person’s house, and well, sometimes it’s just a Darwinian world (and in the grand scheme of things, that probably means that ultimately the ants will win… or at least cockroaches, as we all know).

But every now and then I’ll see an ant or a spider just marching along, say, in my bathtub, and I wonder where he came from, and where he’s going. Ants can live anywhere from 15 years to 30 years, and not the 24 hours many of us attribute to the life cycle of an insect. What happens during that time? What does the world look like when you’ve spent most of your time traveling along the earth, doing your thing, helping the family, building your home, mating, finding food, contributing to the community with whatever job you signed up for. All you can see is the earth beneath your feet, and the sky’s so far away it just looks like a vast blue, pink, orange, or black, depending on the time of day. Is there an ant somewhere with a tiny laptop, so tiny humans can’t see it under a microscope, sitting in her bed banging away on the keyboard, pouring out her heart to a community of ants, pondering the meaning of life? Is there a giant creature out there observing me as I type on this laptop, someone so big that the edge of his hand looks like nothing but a star-studded sky? And maybe someone else bigger than that creature, observing him, and so on.

Did that frog go home to his family and tell tales of how he was catapulted from the parking lot to the woods, how he’d been saved by one of the benevolent humans, while other frogs ruminated over loved ones who’d been smashed by “natural” disasters, giant wheels that bulldozed right over them? Here one minute, gone the next. Maybe the frogs had such limited knowledge of humans that many of them did not believe it, only the few who’d had exchanges with humans, and maybe all the other frogs thought the believers were crazy. Yeah, right, you were somehow picked up by a giant hand. And the hand prodded at you with a giant log and a light beamed down on you brighter than any light you’d ever seen. Maybe some of the frogs make up stories because they want so badly to believe this spiritual experience, or maybe they dreamt it and thought it was real. Maybe they just have a feeling that there’s more to life than this but they just don’t know what exactly it is.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl writes about his life in a Nazi concentration camp (the italics are mine):

“But in robbing the present of its reality there lay a certain danger… Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp’s difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence… Naturally only a few people were capable of reaching great spiritual heights. But a few were given the chance to attain human greatness even through their apparent worldly failure and death, an accomplishment which in ordinary circumstances they would never have achieved… there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”

I would argue that anyone is capable of reaching great spiritual heights, should she want to, should she seek it, and that we are all given opportunities to turn something beautiful into life’s struggles. What I think part of what Frankl’s saying is that this opportunity becomes greater the deeper one’s suffering. Living in a concentration camp is something I can only imagine, not having lived that life, but my suffering has been just as painful for me as yours was for you.

It also made me reflect on how I approached my most recent pain, after Mom died, and the ex broke my heart. Like Frankl I began to look at it as a thing of the past, something to grow and learn from, something from which a butterfly would emerge. That helped tremendously.

Prior to that, prior to my sober life, I spent years ruminating over the meaninglessness of it all. Every morning I got up, dreaded the day before me, despised my commute into work, played a role at work all day of being normal and happy, or at least not too miserable, obsessing all day about how much I could not wait to get home and drink. That was my purpose, all I lived for.

Now when I wake up, I look forward to my day. I love my job, my co-workers, my friends. I enjoy learning about new things. It’s also nice to have a day off from work and enjoy nature. And I love writing this blog.

Today life is good, and today is all we have. Yesterday may have seen tragic times, and tomorrow may hold worse disaster—heck, right now, here today, could be hell on earth. But it’s in how we choose to approach it that matters. I have no idea if there’s a God out there watching after me, any more than that frog knows how exactly he made it into the woods again back to safety. And for all I know a snake came along and ate him minutes later. I’m not God, even for the frog. But I like to think that little frog felt safe, that he told his friends that he’d survived impending disaster, that he now had a new lease on life. I like to think he woke up today and showed more love and zest for life, and had deeper connections with his fellow frogs. That he somehow had a feeling that there’s a reason for all of this, a beautiful purpose, something he’d been missing all along even though it was in front of his face, so big he can’t even see it. And that reason is to love and grow and to make the most of today, wherever you are in life. Call me ignorant or unscientific, but I believe in a higher power, which I call God. I believe there’s someone or something watching over us all, a benevolent force that wants us to be happy. For me, if I didn’t believe that, I would see no point in any of this. That’s just me. Just my two cents. It’s not a belief for everyone, and that’s okay. Whatever floats your boat. My boss, for example, is an atheist and she’s one of the most spiritual people I know, in that she has a compassionate heart and is always kind and patient with people. I believe in good.

And that, my friends, is what gets me through the day. Belief that there’s something deeper in us all, and some of us access it while some don’t, but it doesn’t matter who doesn’t. All that matters is that I do, that I access this deeper part of myself, the soul, the collective conscious, or whatever you want to call it. And that I have gratitude for today, and an ability to turn life’s struggles into gems. It’s a crazy world we live in today with all that’s going on in the news, and I hope that America isn’t turning into a Nazi Germany, but I try to leave the politics out of it for the remaining few of you who still believe that the president is a sane and well person. Just follow my mom’s advice: do the best you can, because that’s all you can do.

I’ll leave you with this song that I sent to Jay yesterday, a tribute to how I felt last week after obsessing over… well, him really. “Flight of the Conchords” was one of my favorite shows, and I love all the characters. Huge crush on Jemaine. And I love Kristen Schaal. Can’t believe this was 10 years ago.

Peace and love,

TCH

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