Secular Trinity

You live, and you grow, and you change. At some point you realize you’re an adult (for me, around age 25). You feel at that point you are not going to change anymore, although it still remains difficult to imagine yourself as middle-aged (and forget about “old”).

You feel “done” maturing, as if at 25 (or whenever) you will simply lock into place and be the “you” that you are now for the rest of your life.

There’s some anecdotal truths around this. For example, artistic tastes. I believe they tend to form as part of childhood and adolescence, and of course one’s taste matures and is refined by experience. But at some point, usually late adolescence, you have kind of “decided” what kind of art, music, film, philosophy, etc., that you “like” or identify with, and this gets rather chiseled in stone for many people. This is why, for example, Journey and Foreigner are still touring.

(Artists are an exception. They are always looking for the new. But given enough time, even they may lose their taste for the now.)

We’re amazed at how richly detailed our childhood memories are, our adolescent and post-adolescent memories. The time between age 6 and 21 seems a lifetime in itself, a kaleidoscope of change, when recollected at age 50. But the time after that, and all the way up to the present, seems a fleeting moment, punctuated by memories of only the most obvious junctures of change (career start, marriage, children, deaths of relatives, new job, big vacation, etc.). Personally, I can barely remember anything that happened between age 25 and 35, but I have a huge catalog of incredibly distinct memories from childhood and adolescence.

Science now has good evidence that there is a reason we have such vivid memories of childhood and adolescence—our brains are wired to create more permanent memories during these years. It would seem to go hand in hand with our greater ability to learn at a younger age.

And, as science has also proven, as you get older time does literally move faster. At least from the individual’s perspective. Gyp!

I’ve also noticed that physical aging is not a steady degrading of one’s appearance from “youthful” to “codger.” It’s a process with fits and starts. Nature, in her wisdom, seems to be most “interested” in us between the ages of 12 and 40. This makes perfect evolutionary sense if you think about it. And so, I don’t know if it’s by design or just a function of human aging, but it seems I did not age at all, physically, between age 20 and 40. I remember, when I was about 31, I walked into my first college class as an instructor. Some of the students laughed, and as I took my spot at the podium and smiled at them, some of them told me to quit fooling around and get a seat before the instructor arrived. I looked about the same as I did at 18. They ended up being a good class. (And that’s another thing – youth relates to youth. It’s not fair. A lot of things aren’t.)

Why this variability in physical aging, memory creation, and perception of time? I believe it’s because Nature has great use for us between the ages of 12 and 40 – to create and raise the next generation. I’m not saying that’s anyone’s “duty” by a long shot. Every life is valid. I mean that that is our usefulness to Nature, which is insistent that life will succeed, and indifferent to what happens after we help in that task. It is our “golden” time, the time when we are most vital, most animated, and most attractive. It’s all useful to be thus, in terms of evolutionary success. And when we get past that period, we are, I’m afraid, no longer so useful to Nature. We are free to stick around, perhaps to advise, but we’re largely relegated to being observers in the continuous cycle, the generational game that is center stage.

And then, when we aren’t looking, the fun begins.

There used to be an old joke about how when Dick Clark reached age 75 he was going to age all at once. Yeah, he was youthful for a long time. But then he wasn’t. And many are, as I was, slow to age. But to quote my old bud Robert Frost: Nothing gold can stay. Time is, as they say, the great destroyer. Or, if you’re a Jim Morrison fan: No one here gets out alive.

So now I do age. My face is fatter, my hair is thinner and coarser and grayer. My middle is more of me. My skin was perfect, now I’ve got more “character” in my face. I have a crown on what used to be a molar. I’m allergic to everything. My eyes are less bright and can’t see menus in dim restaurants. My body is, in general, less cooperative than it used to be. And I’ll be honest, it gets to me sometimes. All things being equal, it’s better to be young, healthy and beautiful. Right? Sure.

But all things are not equal.

Lately, I have felt a very odd transformation occurring. I can only describe it as being less “me” and more “us”. For my entire life, and largely based on my lifestyle, I’ve been a loner, even an outcast. It was always “me” and “everyone else.” It felt right, it felt safe and contained, and my personal philosophy had a lot to do with the idea of the “sovereign individual,” beholden to no one, bowing to no creed and no nation. I was (and am) a devotee of that famous iconoclast William Blake’s iconic statement: “I must create my own system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.”

That’s changed, at least in part. I would like to say it changed the day I married, but that would be dishonest. I was 28, still in Nature’s grip. I was not done figuring out who and why I am. I had a long way to go, and perhaps that was mutual. I suspect it was, and that’s fine. Nothing important is easy, nothing valuable happens in a moment (well, a couple of things). Building a life – an identity – I find it’s a lifelong process. And once I had decided upon my identity, way back then, it felt sound, but now it has shifted again.

Marriage is complicated, as the divorce and single-parent statistics attest. It’s not always worth it. And, most of all, the future – and our future selves – cannot be predicted, they will come to pass as they do, not as we will them to. So some fail. Marriage is a planned sacrifice of sorts, a giving up (eventually, if the union is successful) of a part of oneself, in order to accept being part of another self. I didn’t really understand this when our drunk minister, Reverend Fred, said the words in October 1990, that we were now “one.” I thought I did, but I didn’t.

Now I do. And not only do I feel I am truly not one person anymore, I’m not even limited to being two people. I can look at my daughter now, hear her words, witness her mature identity growing, and it grows like the acorn into a replica of the old oak. Really. She is a true part of the “us” that we are now, and there’s no competition regarding whom she is “more” like, because in a rather profound way we all seem to be the same person. Of course we are physically independent beings, with as much free will as anyone may have (or think they have). We have our own likes and dislikes, etc. But we do not go it alone, not at all. We are “in it” together, the “it” being life. We share it, as I have never before understood sharing.

No, it’s not readily explained.

But I know this: I’m no longer me, and it’s no longer me against the world. I’m us, and we’re us. And we are a world, within a world. And it feels better than anything I’ve ever felt before.


Socialism Part 2: What’s in a Name? Plenty.

The first step in the process is to reclaim the validity of the word “socialism.” American conservatives – capitalists by nature – have done a good job of transforming the word into a pejorative. For that matter, they’ve made good progress on the term “liberal,” as if the very concept of being open to new ideas and new approaches is anathema to our buttoned up, top-down economy and its trans-national corporate masters. Also not coincidental, the nation’s approved history textbooks barely touch on the popularity of socialism among Americans in the 1930s (with the Great Depression marking the first object demonstration that the Dow Jones is a measuring stick for the elite’s finances, not a system of governance for all of us). Of course, the end game of America’s flirtation with socialism and communism in the 1930s was Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the great communist witch hunts it set off in the paranoid post-war 1950s.

Now the Great Recession has reminded us, once again, that the big risks of our economy are being borne not by ultra-wealthy “job creators” but by the 99.99 percent of us who do not own the world, its resources and its governments. When capitalist deal-making hits pay dirt, oligarchs get richer. But when it goes bust, as it did in grand style in 2008, strapped taxpayers foot the bill in the form of tax write-offs and bailouts. Then, as a final insult, when the government needs more money than the GOP will let it collect in taxes from billionaires, the government borrows it from – you guessed it – these same billionaire tax dodgers, who prefer to make interest on the money they “lend” to Uncle Sam. This is known as “privatizing gains and socializing losses.” Americans are picking up on this pattern, and they do not like it. The natural question that should come to our minds is, “If corporations are going to get the taxpayer-funded benefits of socialist policies, shouldn’t we taxpayers be eligible for them too?”

But as the options for choosing leaders dry up — as our politics gets deeper and deeper into the gutter, scaring off decent people who want to help — those who vie for office all appear to be variations on the same gladiatorial theme. Politicians are being molded by corporate interests, at corporatized universities, by special interest “AstroTurf” groups like ALEC and the NRA, and by corporate “think tanks” like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth. They are producing politicians the same way McDonald’s produces managers at Hamburger University—absorb the corporate philosophy, preach the corporate philosophy, defend the corporate philosophy, and project a belief that there are no viable alternatives to the corporate philosophy.

Except that it’s not a corporation—it’s my government, it’s your government, it’s our government, and it should work for all our interests.

Socialism = Despotism?

As an option for governance, socialism’s biggest hits came from those 20th century revolutionaries who overthrew their monarchies or oligarchies and put in place severe, ideological, paranoid, oppressive regimes that were called (naturally) “socialist” regimes. So for Americans who are not curious enough or creative enough to wonder how else one might implement a socialist system of governance, the only working models are the totalitarian regimes of Mao, Stalin, Kim Jong Il, and the rest. Worst of all from the American perspective, the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” what Ronald Reagan famously called the “evil empire” – this evil empire was our object model for conceptualizing socialism. We perceived socialism through the prism of an anti-socialist, pro-capitalist society.

Now, as in the 1930s, people are waking up to the reality that a blend of our Democratic principles with Socialist monetary and regulatory policies may – that is to say it just might – be preferable to a system run by a cabal of self-interested billionaire families, a system that works for the benefit of roughly 0.01 percent of the population. Yes, it might be better than the oligarchy our current “democracy” is creating.

Next: Democracy on a Ventilator

Growing Up Socialist

Based on my upbringing, it’s almost impossible that I would turn out to be anything other than a card-carrying socialist. This truism would make my father roll over in his Arlington National Cemetery grave, I suppose. But he – as an intellectual – would also have to agree with my reasoning.

Dad was a South Omaha Polish Catholic boy made good, graduating from West Point in 1958 to embark, along with his new wife (and my mother), on a globe-trotting career in the U.S. Army. He was a career man, with two tours in Vietnam attached to an SVA (South Vietnamese regular army) unit, a Signal Corps officer who retired at the age of 45 or so.

This means that as a child I also traveled the world, often living on federal property, and was essentially raised within the U.S. Army culture. It is a 100% socialist culture.

In the military, everyone has a job. Nobody is starvation-poor, and nobody is mega-rich. For 2016, the Army pay scale lists the lowest private at about $1600 a month and the biggest, cigar-chompingest four-star general making about $19,700 a month. That’s a difference in pay, between the lowest-paid grunt and basically the CEO of the Army, representing a factor of 12.3. Compare that to someone at Wal-Mart making minimum wage ($1,200 a month) and the Wal-Mart CEO making, let’s say conservatively, about $1.5 million a year or $125,000 a month. That’s a factor of 100+. (Top-earning CEOs make $125,000 an hour. Side question: how does one “earn” $125,000 in one hour? How is one person’s “labor” equal to the labor of 17,000 minimum wage workers?)

In the army, as in a classically imagined socialist society, there are “party members” (officers) and the “proletariat” (enlisted). Officers “run things” (executive) and the enlisted “do things” (labor). The executives get better pay and more perks—they have college degrees and undergo extensive educational training (War College, Command School), not to mention the added responsibility of being in charge. But those in the ranks of labor are provided for as well – in addition to base pay the enlisted soldiers in the barracks eat for free, have free housing, and free uniforms. (Officers pay for most of these things unless deployed in a war zone.) Yet everyone is guaranteed vacation (30 days a year last I checked) and sick leave. And if you get really sick, guess what? You’re covered, because health care is free. Provided you make a career of it, a soldier gets free medical care for life, plus a fair pension after twenty years of service. (Right now the pension is 50% of the soldier’s highest average 36 months of pay, regardless of rank, and this is in addition to Social Security retirement benefits.)

Everyone is covered. There are no homeless, there are no “illegals”, there are no charity cases, there are no elderly workers left high and dry by raided pension funds or crappy 401K plans.

Because of the “uniform” quality of life in the military—nobody stands out, nobody is singled out for special treatment—the military has largely marginalized the effects of American racism and classism in its culture-within-a-culture (except for the traditional, generalized class differential between officers and enlisted). Obviously these effects cannot be entirely eliminated. But as folks like Colin Powell have shown, a black soldier faces no institutional barriers to success in the military. He or she can get all the way, as Powell did, to the very top. You don’t have to come from any particular family or go to any particular school. (West Point helps, but again, anyone with the chops to succeed there is welcome. There’s no tuition—students get paid—and of course room and board are free. And you have a good job the day you graduate.) As you may recall, the military was even out ahead of the rest of American culture on gay acceptance. Women, in a culture invented for men, have had a rougher road, but they too are progressing. The army just graduated its first two female Rangers last year (both West Point graduates).

It’s simple: an egalitarian culture promotes and nurtures egalitarianism in its members, who feel a natural sense of dignity, of being respected within the culture no matter their individual role. Regular soldiers, not generals, tend to win the highest of military decorations. Most enlisted soldier’s I’ve known regard officers as “different” than them in their career path, not “better” than them because of their rank.

Of course, the U.S. military is an artificial culture in that, socialist as it may be, it is completely dependent on the greater American economy for its continued existence. The military is not an economy, it does not “produce” anything (aside from abstract “security”), it only consumes tax funds. The U.S. military is not the answer to our struggles with corporatism/oligarchy, but it does serve as an object lesson in how to build a fair and equitable societal structure, one in which all can thrive and all can live with dignity. We can learn from it.

Why Now?

It feels like I could have written this item a long time ago. Maybe, because in my past the word “socialism” was roughly equivalent in the American lexicon with terms like “godless communist” or “evil empire,” I felt like it would be a wasted effort. I mean, I think I’m pretty safe in arguing that before 2016, no socialist of any kind could have expected to be nominated for the presidency, let alone occupy that office.

And maybe that’s still true. At this writing, the bean counters expect Hillary to win the Democratic nomination this summer despite the extraordinary grass-roots popularity of her Democratic Socialist challenger, Bernie Sanders. She simply has the math in her favor, and – not incidentally – the party apparatus and its many veteran Democratic voters.

But the phenomenon of the nation’s young people “feeling the Bern” and coming out for the man in huge numbers looks like a harbinger of a new direction for America. It feels as though the dismantling of the oligarchy may come, if not next year, then soon—regardless of who wins the next presidential election.

Next: What’s in a Name? Plenty.

Mad Men Made Sane

I like TV shows, but I only watch a few of the modern ones – I might like some others, but who has the time to wade through all the crap?

One show I like is Mad Men. But I might like it for different reasons than most people. Some people like the period clothes, some have a crush on Don Draper or Betty or big Joan, some think it’s great storytelling (it’s not great, but it’s good). On the other side, I’ve heard it called a soap opera, I’ve heard it called misogynist and racist and depressing. Maybe. The reason I like it is that it’s an excellent dramatic portrayal of a society confronting the nihilism of the modern world. The 1960’s ad business milieu seems the perfect environment in which to experience that confrontation firsthand.

The cover of the April 8, 1966 edition of Time magazine asked the question “Is God Dead?” I believe Mad Men is one dramatist’s answer. And it’s not “yes” or “no”.

In the world of Don Draper, there’s no right, no wrong, only what “is”. There’s no saving grace, and nobody – and everybody – gets what they “deserve”. It’s a world untethered from any higher authority or over-arching moral code.

In an early episode, Don Draper in his fine suit is denigrated by the beatnik friends of his mistress as they sit around her apartment smoking weed. They are dissing establishment ad man Don for being part of the “big lie”, which implies the beatniks are above all of that, on some higher and better plane. Don answers them with: “I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system.” After a thoughtful pause he delivers the coup de grace:

“The universe is indifferent.”

Don’s shot across the bow of pious morality is a warning to the self-righteous that their reality is not the only possible reality, their good is not the only good. There are other, competing realities, and the people who believe them are just as convinced of their veracity as anyone else (for example, just watch the monotheists and atheists go at it). More important to me, it’s a warning to people raised on traditional “good versus evil” narratives that those, too, are only stories. Reality is something else – reality is what really happens in the world.

Reality should be self-evident, but it’s not, which is the root of our problem. We have a whole collection of phrases expressing the wish to get to what is real beneath what we perceive: “The real deal”, or crazy Ayn Rand’s “A is A”, or hippies with “the nitty gritty,” or old school “brass tacks”, or the “nuts and bolts” of a situation.

One of the greatest minds of the 20th century, the English novelist Iris Murdoch, wrote a novel called Under the Net, which includes this statement:

“All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

In other words, we impose a “net” of cultural belief systems and traditions on the reality of our sensory perceptions (a baby bird falls from its nest and dies – what does it mean?). Call them religions, superstitions, social mores, gender roles, philosophies, whatever. Our philosophical “net” of order, which we apply to the surface of our chaotic everyday reality, causes us to think that by extension there is some even grander system that is somehow manipulating these various smaller outcomes, both happy and sad, toward revelation of some great universal TRUTH, which we will someday know if we only persist in our struggle in “good faith.” The peace of God, someone said, surpasses all understanding. But even though we never really can, Murdoch expresses the belief that we should always try, as much as possible, to discern what’s “under the net” rather than just be content to perceive reality “through” the organizing net(work) of our preconceptions.

There’s nothing particularly new about this idea, I know. The poet William Blake wrote, long ago, “I must create my own system…or be enslav’d by another man’s.” It’s always been a favorite line of mine, since I first read it. Blake knew all our systems are invented and ephemeral. As a poet and outlaw, why imprison yourself in some banker’s or vicar’s construct of reality? No – better to live your own reality, however terrifying it may be.

I haven’t seen the last season of Mad Men yet, so I don’t know if Draper gets the “comeuppance” many are waiting for – whether he wins or loses in the end. This was supposedly a big cultural deal. Some see him as a total rat – after all he’s a liar, a fake, a cheater and a bully. They have anticipated his downfall and would cheer his ultimate failure as a sort of moral justice. Others see him as a victim of circumstances, still others see him as the kind of “real man” who’s fallen out of fashion in post-Alan Alda America.

To me, it doesn’t matter what happens to Don Draper. If he wins, it’s because a complex set of circumstances, only some of which he controls, have resulted in him winning. If he loses – same reason. In Don’s world, it’s all a crap shoot. If we feel frustrated by that, I think it’s because of our steady diet of happy endings, of stories large and small that almost always “reward” faith and hope while almost always “punishing” immorality or cynicism. Writers know that’s what we like. But it’s not real.

We can hold out for a just and fair future society, but it is not very likely to arrive on its own or be ushered in by ancient philosophers we’ve since deified. We must choose to build it ourselves. The past is the best predictor of what the future will bring – in short, continued moral ambiguity and human frailty hobbling our worldly systems, and zero direction from above (if there is an above) to get us on the better path. We must choose to see the right path with our human, open eyes. As the oft-repeated quote, attributed to Ghandi,  goes, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”

While its stories can veer into melodrama, Mad Men depicts a society grappling with this reluctantly reached philosophical conclusion, and all its attendant modern anxiety and frustration, with aplomb.

Nature is a Tsunami

I was in a discussion the other day about Melville’s leviathan. The question at hand had to do with what Ahab thought of the whale, and I became pretty thoughtful on this myself.

What I concluded was less relevant to this log than what occurred to me as part of that conclusion. To wit: Ahab feels he can enter into a contest with Nature, as represented by the whale.

This belief, of course, is not rational at all. Yet look at our world – some of us do believe we have enjoined the battle, and that we will somehow “win” against Nature. It reminds me of “anti-environmentalists.” The term itself is absurd. How can someone be “against” protecting their own environment from destruction? Yet so many on the right profess this very notion in their philosophies. They see the environment as a foil, something standing in the way of their goals. It is an outside force that, more often than not, mucks up our plans.

Much of what has gone on in the world of nation states in the last couple of hundred years or so has contributed to this notion of the universe consisting of “us” and Nature–us and “everything else.” You don’t see that division in native societies. You don’t have all of this effort to remove people physically from their environment, to externalize the earth, trees, grass, rocks as “outside.” Certainly no one in such a society has ever contemplated the relative merits of “saving” the environment versus “gaining” personally from poisoning or destroying it. They could not have conceived it: nature was not that place outside their home–nature was their home.

This removal is evidenced to me in how the two main categories of fact reported about a natural “disaster” are deaths and injuries and the “damage” in dollars. It’s reasonable that that is what we see as the “news” of the event. But the implication one can perceive is that nature “did” a tsunami to us, rather than Nature “is” a tsunami even though we “are” as well (though we “are” in a less significant way hierarchically).

That’s the thought that struck me – Nature “is” a tsunami. I hadn’t really thought in these terms before. I of course realized that Nature is capable of producing a tsunami, an earthquake, a cyclone, an ice age. But I had not before escaped the cause/effect chain that humans are so fond of in analyzing events. Discovering the “cause” of a natural disaster provides some satisfaction. “Oh,” we think, “it’s OK because now we know why it happened.” But what we call the cause–the plates shifting, the asteroid falling, the disease spreading, or whatever–is no cause at all. It “is” Nature. The asteroid falling is Nature, the plate shifting is Nature. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to distinguish what Nature “does” from what it “is.”

To anthropomorphize nature is to denigrate it, to demystify it unjustly, to bring it down to the level of one of its mean components–us. The key elements are hubris and the perceived dichotomy of Man/Nature. It takes an irrational amount of exaggerated self-importance to place oneself outside the confines of Nature; or to relegate Nature to a mere equivalence, something “other” and possibly opposed to our interests or even hostile to our existence. It takes a kind of mass insanity to perceive Nature as anything at all separate from us.

We “are” Nature, but Nature is much more than us. Yet ironically, its purpose is less complex than the “causes” and effects we describe in it, the “actions” which we erroneously assign to it. It simply is. It is all. All days and nights, all centuries, all people and their ambitions, all matter and all motion.

The Pope and Mrs. Shiavo

Terry Schiavo  has passed, and the pope is not far behind. As if in rebuttal, the little tufts of grass on my lawn are puffing up and greening in a small pageant of renewal.

To obsess as a culture, a world, over a life over or nearly over seems odd, misplaced, as lives in full are threatened daily, hourly, by the very circumstances we create for ourselves–in war, poverty, and all those conditions and crimes we assign to the realm of the inevitable.

And here are those crying, mourning souls all bent out of shape over ends which truly are, or were, inevitable. Schiavo has been, from her own perspective, gone for 15 years. Now her body can rest too, its marionette strings cut, the puppeteers given the pink slip. They will find another poor soul to symbolize before too long, and we’ll start this sidewalk theatre over again.

The Pope, in an odd convergence, has a feeding tube inserted as they remove Schiavo’s. He too is on that inevitable path, but why not keep him alive? He is alive, after all, not dead like Schiavo was. Yet the same madness that insisted on animating her corpse for fifteen years may steal the life from His Holiness prematurely, because just as the Catholic law forbids taking–or preventing–life against God’s will to create it, it also forbids “extraordinary means” for preserving life against God’s will to end it. The philosophy is simple: don’t interfere with God’s process for life. But medicine complicates the question, and now, suddenly, it seems we need an answer.

Do we? How do we formulate a single answer for conditions so wide-ranging in their prognoses, and in the quality of the life we may save? Do we revive our 93-year-old grandma after her third heart attack, or do we accept the body’s end? Do we pull the plug on 60-year-old Dad because, even though there’s a chance he could recover, he’s costing $12,000 a week to keep alive?

The Pope wants his suffering to symbolize Christ’s suffering, he wants to share it and display it to the world in a show of faith. Now, he is silent. Like it or not, others will have to decide for him how long the show must go on. And, not incidentally, the church needs a pope. One who talks. Can he keep his job with a ventilator down his throat? If he’s relieved, will his suffering still symbolize Christ’s? Or is he at that point just a disturbed, dying old man? I don’t want to answer. But the questions do not go away.

Schiavo may or may not have wanted her life ended once her brain was beyond recovery. To my mind, it makes little difference what they did or didn’t do once she reached that point. We have certain predilections when we live, and once we’re gone they really don’t matter. Not to us. But they matter to the living. Now if only the living who have the luxury to worry about such things could get excited about what the rest of the living want–food, homes, safety, good government, and all those things that make life worthwhile.

Living in a Quiet Place

August 27, 2004

I’ve been eating at the Subway near my office once a week for about five years now. I don’t always get the same sandwich, but nearly always. Today I got a turkey and ham, though usually I get a plain turkey.

If that sounds boring, well, it is. But I’ve found that while I’m always interested in new ideas in art, music, philosophy, etc., and I’m fascinated with new people, places and events, the truth is I’m happy with rut-like routines for the more mechanical aspects of day to day living.

With respect to wardrobe, I am far from a “dandy,” though I try not to be slovenly or wear clothes too far out of style. Occasionally at the office we have a “casual day,” which I usually opt out of. I have a good standard set of boring work clothes–khakis, black slacks, oxfords, and polo shirts from the local mid-value retailer–and the effort required to think up something more “casual” to wear (but not too casual) sort of negates any pleasure I might have in wearing jeans or shorts to work. Plus, I don’t even have that many casual clothes, so I don’t want to “use them up” before the weekend arrives. The whole thing just screws up my monk-like routine.

My last car was an Acura, but it got pretty old, so I traded it in–for another Acura. Hey, they’re just good cars.

It’s simple living, and I no longer find simple to be synonymous with bland or commonplace. Quite the contrary: as the whole population seems to strive for a life of some deeper significance, I accept life as inherently significant, and life’s simple acts as acts of faith in that belief.

My weekdays are filled with routine, though I like to break things up on the weekends. I’m happy to work, come home, work out or mow the lawn if it needs it, read the paper, eat dinner, walk the dog and read to my daughter with my wife, watch TV for an hour, and then hit the sack, where I sleep quite soundly. I look forward to each familiar component of these evenings as others might look forward to a coming change. There is a quietness to these days, a rhythm that is in tune with my life’s rhythm, at least for now. My earlier life was so frenetic, unpredictable, often dangerous. I’m happy to be in this new stage, one where I might plan a long-term personal project without the need for a deadline. I can plant a tree, and say to myself in earnest, “Well, that will be looking just great in about five years or so.”

I can still contemplate the old days, the lessons they taught me. This old life lives on in my mind, a spirit life of some lone gypsy obsessed with finding meaning, searching for people who knew about living, expecting to find significance lurking nearby like a wino in an alley. He eventually stopped wandering and found meaning–in a child’s eyes, a swept porch, a Saturday morning kiss, a dog’s soft ear, a garden of wild lilacs and daisies. The necessary thing was to stop looking.

And now, waves of meaning wash over each morning shave and mirror stare. Who am I today? How will I change to face events, and how will events change me without my knowing? How far away am I from that naïve child who felt so apart from everyone else? How much closer am I now, and will I move closer still, to those I love?

It is the exquisite, almost painful beauty of the world as seen from a quiet place, with room and time to observe the day’s passing, that I crave. And I find it so often, I am approaching a contentment I never knew was possible.

I wrote a bad poem some time ago, about the sun as an indifferent ball of fire careening dumbly through space. I thought it was a poem about alienation and the loss of significance in the face of the death of God, etc.–a riff on the current Zeitgeist. Now I know it was just a poem about loneliness. And that’s what most angst must be about. The inability, if even for a while, to move from separate lonely spaces to a common warm, quiet place of belonging and acceptance. To come home.