Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This I Believe

My local public radio station has been soliciting personal essays from its members, asking them to express the values that give meaning to their lives. Here's mine; I don't think it will get on the air.

Generally, I’m unhappy, and have been since 2003. I think that I had a bit of a revelation about why I’m blue (at least in part) last week while I was showering in the morning. It just "came to me" that I'm unhappy because I'm waiting for my life to start and (1) I doubt that it ever will, and (2) I'm getting pretty old to begin my life. I know this concept of "waiting for my life to start" needs an explanation. What I mean is that I'd like my life to have some time for me to pursue some of my interests, but nearly every waking moment of my life is committed. I'm not kidding. Of course, I'm fully committed at work (usually overcommitted, so I don't accomplish things at work that I'd like to accomplish, either, so that's no source of satisfaction), and my life at home is fully committed--something as simple as sitting down and reading a magazine article in one sitting is a real luxury in which I hardly ever (never?) get to indulge. So, when my life "starts," I'll have some time to read a magazine article, work in the garden, maybe write a bit, and ride my bike. Right now, I just shoehorn these pleasures into my life when I can sneak the time. For example, I read magazine articles just before I fall asleep while my wife is getting ready for bed; it usually takes me 4-5 nights to finish one article. My life's going to be over before it ever begins, and it's discouraging and depressing.

More thoughts.

I think that the second greatest factor contributing to my general down mood is my overwhelming impression that life, ultimately, really has no purpose. This feeling came over me most strongly a few years ago when I was riding my bike along a rural rail-to-trail conversion in eastern Pennsylvania's Lehigh Gorge State Park. The entire Lehigh River, at one time, was little more than a series of pools backed up behind stone dams that allowed miners to barge coal down to Jim Thorpe (then known as Mauch Chunk). The remains of the stonework are everywhere alongside the trail, and some of the ruins are massive. I thought about all those men and animals working all that time to build this huge and complicate navigation system, and in a little over a century, there's nothing to show for their labor except for some useless blocks in the river. What's the point?

99.99% of people and their work are forgotten soon after they're dead, and the majority of the remaining 0.01% are forgotten just a little bit later. So, why the hell are we scurrying around acting like anything we do is important?

Of course, this sort of thinking suggests that we should all be as hedonistic and selfish as we possibly can, since there's no point to life except our current pleasure. Part of my problem is that I can't reconcile that logical outcome with my personality, which is focused on frugality, restraint, and the long-range perspective. Maybe the conflict between what I should be doing logically and the way I feel like I ought to behave contributes to my feelings of depression and hopelessness.

Final thoughts. Certainly, the state of the world contributes to my feelings. I make my life in a career and job intimately related to the environment, and that environment--locally, regionally, and globally--is going to hell.

I remember a quote in the "people making headlines" section of our local newspaper on or about New Year's day this year. Someone asked CNN reporter Anderson Cooper what he thought about the state of the world. Cooper replied that the environment and the world are going to hell, and are going there fast. Anderson Cooper's traveled a whole heck of a lot more than I have, and he's had the chance to see some nightmare places that you and I can only imagine, so I give his assessment some credence.

It's very discouraging to me to devote my life to a cause, when (1) I doubt that I'm making much of a difference, even locally, (2) even what I do locally doesn't amount to a hill of beans considering the global meltdown, and (3) forces over which I have no control will probably completely overwhelm even my puny local efforts. Why even bother?

I often tell my friends I think humans are a scourge on the Earth. Sometimes, they excoriate and rebuke me for that comment. Even when I’m chastised, I still think the planet would be far better off without people.

(Actually, I'll concede that humans have contributed one positive thing to the planet: music.)

Here endeth the sermon.

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