I know it’s cliche, but lately I’ve been wondering what it’s all for.
Why do we wake up every morning, toil all day, argue with a spouse or a child, grumble about bills to pay, go to sleep at night, and wake up again the next day to start the cycle anew?
Why are we here? I may be too old to be having this conversation, but really, the older I get, the more I want to know: are humans a unique aberration on a single planet in the entire vast creation or are we just like everywhere else and only need to discover it?
Will the sun really explode one day? And if so, are we all going to be shattered to oblivion? All the years spent in therapy and in debt, why bother?
Or is it true that we have many incarnations and will keep coming back until we make a difference on this planet? And if that’s the case, who was I before and who will I be next? Was the baby crying in the restaurant last night a reincarnation of my beloved grandmother?
I just finished reading Marina Keegan‘s The Opposite of Loneliness. The very fact of her tragic story – killed 5 days after college graduation in a freak car crash – makes the book that much more compelling.
Especially when she references the children she will have one day and how her choices will impact them.
She wrote a long essay about how startling it is that one-quarter of Yale graduates get jobs at investment banks or consulting firms. She’s arguing in her early 20s idealistic bliss that there are more meaningful things to do with one’s life, so why is everyone signing on to a high-paying, insane-hours job?
She quotes n Kevin Hicks, a Yale graduate and former dean of Berkeley College: “The danger in doing a prefabricated thing after graduation is that there’s no unique story to tell about it. If there was ever a moment to be entrepreneurial and daring – whether in terms of business or social change – and really test yourself, this is it.”
He continues. “The question is: where do you need to be with yourself such that when the time comes to ‘cast your whole vote,’ you’re reasonably confident you’re not being either fear-based or ego-driven in your choice…that the journey you’re on is really yours, and not someone else’s?
If we all die one day into nothingness, then why do anything? Why not climb mountains and drink from streams (if you can find a reasonably clean one) and make love all afternoon and read books? Why work? Why argue? Why why why?
If the sun is going to explode and we’ll all end up in darkness and cold, what is the industrial revolution and technological advancement all for? Why have babies? Why worry about them? Why send them to college?
I’m willing to bet that most of us didn’t do anything daring or entrepreneurial when we left college. We got a safe job so we could pay our bills and we looked for love so we wouldn’t walk through life alone.
Yesterday, I spoke with a young woman who is hesitant about marriage because she and her partner don’t have any money at this time. “You’ll never have any money,” I say. “You’ll make more, but your expenses and demands will increase, too.”
I make more today than I ever have but the stakes are higher. Four kids off to college in the blink of an eye. A dream house that is the most expensive residence I’ve owned. There’s a price for every level of happiness.
We are arrogant and privileged to even have this conversation. Around the world, there are many, many people who simply want to know that there will be enough rice to eat at the end of the day and who want their children to live past childhood. There are people who worry about being killed by insurgents or warlords, not what they’ll be when they grow up or where they’ll retire or whether they can at some point stop working altogether.
It’s a very western-world conversation we’re having.
I just got back from Mackinac Island, where I was lucky enough to spend three uninterrupted days with the love of my life on an island where time stands still. The wealthy people’s fantastic sometimes-homes sat on bluffs overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. I hear the middle-class folks live in the center of the island, in a village.
On the way home, we stopped to spend the day sailing with friends. It was a hot day and at the end, we rode the dinghy over to the Dam Beach and dipped into the ice-cold water. We sipped wine from plastic cups and talked about the future.
And then, my love and I drove home along the same highway that has taken us out of worry and into wonder my entire life.
I am home now, in my familiar surroundings. I took my comforting shower this morning with just the right amount of water pressure and combed my hair free of knots. We prepare to celebrate our nation’s independence, and ours, in a few days, with friends and family coming over to the new house, to see the night sky explode.
What’s it really all for? Will we ever truly know?