Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Metaphysics fatigue

My mind lately is a rather pointless and wearying metaphysics hamster wheel. In December we dealt with two deaths, neither someone we were very close to, but close enough for sadness.  One young and expected, after a long fight, and one seemingly out-of-nowhere suicide that really flummoxed me.

Stuff has kept piling on as the new year gets underway, and we're kind of battle weary.

I keep coming back to my great great grandmother, Georgia.  I wrote here about my discovery of her apparently lifelong chilliness toward her granddaughter.

But I've got this kind of cognitive dissonance about her because every other clue I have says really good things.  Starting just after the Civil War, she had a passel of kids, eventually including Iola, my great grandmother. This was a hazardous era for even genetically lucky babies.  All her kids lived to grow up.  Luck certainly played its part but it still tells me something good about their mother.

Keeping the kids fed and clean and healthy doesn't necessarily mean you've nurtured their spirits, but Georgia's children were all good people, not just well-respected but well-liked.  Some I know only through anecdotes and scraps of letters and inscriptions.  A couple, I knew personally.  Their descendants are a funny and nice, sometimes charmingly weird, generally terrific bunch of cousins I see every spring at a big gathering, and some I see regularly in daily life.

Georgia disliked Iola's firstborn, but none of Georgia's children seems to have emulated it.  Iola's siblings were warm and loving toward their niece, my grandmother.   Much that was nurturing and good for Gran had to be Georgia's legacy as well. If she had a weird prejudice, her children still seem to have been able to think for themselves. What was this woman about?  Of course, what is any of us about? and the answer is complex beyond imagining.

On the metaphysical side, I want and hope, so much, to meet her.  Want and hope that in 1984, when that granddaughter, whose feelings she hurt so deeply, left this life, they were united again in a dawn of understanding and a mended love they couldn't seem to get to while they were on earth.

I guess those of us who believe in an afterlife, or crave one, see no way that any kind of balance within this universe can be achieved without that chance for reconciliation.  But call it wish fulfillment if you want to.  My comprehension of the issue is too weak and muddled to offer anything except few observations, some postulations, and maybe a shrug.   If I ever get any answers, it won't be in this life.

But when I try to focus instead on good examples of living this life, I can't avoid Georgia.  I loved my grandmother dearly, yet I can't help but feel that Gran would be glad I consider Georgia's to be a life well lived.   Life has sort of forced on me awareness of how there's a whole mysterious universe inside every person. If we flower and fade in cosmic seconds, like time-lapse photography, we are still complicated and mysterious and, I can't help but think, eternal, in a way that defies explanation.

Yeah, yeah, isn't that special. But i'm examining what others made of their lives in part because my own confounds me.  My life is easier than that of 99% of people on earth, but I am SO tired and so discouraged with how little I can do to fight the entropy, not only in Haiti or Thailand, but for those I love, or those sitting across from me.

I can sit and banter about our Hondas with a guy and not have a clue that he's weeks away from putting a gun in his mouth. I'm not down on myself about that -- he successfully hid it from his nearest loved ones -- I'm more down on the UNintelligence of this Design in which we care and are all Oh So Spiritually Interconnected but that fellowship of all creation does these massive system-fails.

I can say prayers till I'm blue in the face but a 25 year old will still lose her fight with leukemia.  Somewhere someone wakes up to a day in which their family has been wiped out in a single fire or plane crash or tsunami, yet I have the audacity to feel like crawling under the blankets and saying "I can't face another goddam Christmas dinner."  Even though I suk it up and smile and do the celebratory thing, and end the day both glad I did it, and glad it's over.

I know, it's all a reminder that none of these other peoples' lives are in my hands, and God knows, I don't want them to be.  My AA program says "Let go. Turn it over."  My own life is all I've been given to handle, but the swear words keep welling up, as in, like, Who the  %@#!  is handling things, then?

I understand those who say there's no Big Guy In Charge, this life is our responsibility, we're the ones in charge.

But we're not.  See, that's the thing.  We can get a lot better at reducing intolerance and killer pollutants, we can do vastly more to heal disease, and make the world safer and kinder, and we'll be overjoyed that we've increased humanity's health-and-happiness rate from .... whatever, the 20% that it is now, to 60-70%.  Heck, make it 90% if you want to get real optimistic, but millions will always remain at the mercy of random miseries, pain and loss too horrible to bear thinking of.

That.  Will.  Not.  Change.  Ever.

Which doesn't mean we shouldn't demand of ourselves that we shoot for that 90% rate;  only that too much will always be beyond human power.  We can't make Paradise on earth, even at our very very best.  More than the "how" of coping, I keep wondering why we all have to be so powerless and why we're so interconnected when it doesn't, and can't, solve much.

When I read Candide for a class in 1975, I adored it instantly.  It just might be my favorite banned book.   I know, opinions by literary experts abound, and it has been 30+ years since that class, but I swear, the book stopped way short of claiming any final answers about a metaphysical realm and admitted that premature claims of understanding are simply .... premature.  Voltaire himself, I dunno, but the book stopped short.

There's a kind of wonder in realizing that all of our explanations of The Meaning of Life are the equivalent of toys.  Screw self-help books, Candide is the best depression-buster I've read.  Oh and it does it with delicious sarcasm.  That didn't hurt, either.

Depression for me is mired in craving Big Answers, and I'm thinking that I need to stop needing big answers.  If we tend our gardens, we've confined our hopes to the possible. There's nothing wrong with caring about and contemplating big answers, wanting is fine, but needing them -- though I may never disable that need -- can be paralyzing.

I think Georgia tended her garden, and that's more important than whether she screwed up in one, even a hard and unjust, way.   I have to more than accept, to actually take comfort in my limitations and say, "I can't take responsibility for this. I'm depleted, ask somebody else."  And maybe I need to reread Candide for fun.

Faith is for the things that take a while.

Meanwhile, I saved the best thing I got for Valentine's Day, for this post, though i really wish the whole sentence could show in one photo. But I need to keep this in sight, because letting it take time is something I need to remember to do.


Sherwood Harrington said...

I keep hoping somebody smarter than me will leave a comment here detailing precisely why this post is so very, very good. That way, I don't have to leave two first comments in a row that, basically, just cheer. I guess it won't happen, so you're stuck with it:

This is really, really, good, Ruth. Thank you.

Ronnie said...

Sherwood - your comment is so like the one I left a couple of weeks ago re her post "Tribute." The post is just so good it leaves you ... speechless???

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Boy, i must be really good at saying "I'm tired and grumpy and don't have a clue about anything." Thanks yall. 8~)

ronnie said...

You do say it very, very well :)

southernyankee said...

When I first moved south in 1989, I was fortunate that I was surrounding by true southerners.

Not the transplants, or "implants" from the north who think moving south will cure all of life's woes, only to later discover that they carried their heavy and unwelcome baggage with them.

These true southerners made me recall the kind of neighborliness and friendliness of my youth growing up in a small country town.

Southern hospitality welcomed me to the point where I felt I had somehow returned home.

So when they told me the story about clearing a swamp while butt deep in alligators, I found it funny and charming.

The last few years, however, has shown me the other side of the swamp tale.

The double Christmas deaths, on top of all else we've lived through the past few years, gets me wondering if draining the swamp is a worthwhile endeavor. Maybe we should just climb back into the boat, drop the oars in the water, and give up.

I always enjoy reading your posts. They, as you often do, get me thinking about life and events from a perspective not always found in my mind.

I also find the story about Georgia interesting, and am disturbed by gran's note about her not liking gran. Perhaps that was a misunderstanding of some event that turned their relationship sour in Georgia's mind?

Guess we'll never know, but there is a lesson in her message if we can read carefully between the lines. From what I know, both women left a legacy descendants recall, some fondly, some not.

How incredibly human they were and we are.