I don’t get it:
Why don’t people notice that dementia disproves the notion of an afterlife?
How can we possibly believe that the soul will survive the body, when we see it fail to last some lifetimes? Writers have opined that the soul is seated in the chest, in the belly, in the loins, but anyone who has paid any attention knows that the soul is approximately the personality, and that its home is in the head. Our eyes take in the sights and our ears pull in the sounds and our mouths know the objects and our brains process it all and make our sense of it. That’s why deep kissing is more intimate than sexual intercourse; our faces are involved. That’s why it’s so nasty to swat a child or a pet on the head. As we age and watch so many of our parents lose their minds, as we witness the departure of their personalities while their bodies continue, we have to admit that there will be no conscious existence after death.
I don’t get the whole concept of worship. I can imagine a throned deity surrounded by all the hoopla and glory, but it looks like a human king. It acts like the naked emperor. It is mean, demanding, vain, and punitive. Or something like that. I wouldn’t even want to have a cup of coffee with that deity. I was serious when I asked who created God in third grade Sunday School and was invited to permanently leave the class (I was a disruptive student, and there was only space for kids who were willing to learn). I am serious now: how can anyone admire a god who hates? A god who needs cathedrals? A god who puts men above women or light skin above dark? Seriously, if I’m to believe in an interested deity, it better be a character so far above the pettiness and panic of people that I am staggered with admiration.
It took a bit of reading about telomerase and it took a bit of thinking about what the body means, but I figured out awhile ago that a unit of cancer is an abnormal cell that keeps reproducing. It doesn’t know when to die. So it grows into a disorganized mass, like a clump of cottage cheese, when your masses are supposed to be (literally) organized. It’s probably the case that we sprout cancer cells regularly but our immune systems wipe them out. Until there’s an immune system hiccup. Considering this leads me to see death as a necessary cleaning, like a vacuuming up of waste and clutter. It makes me understand that the opposite of life is not death; it’s fecund out-of-control growth without shape and without end.
Yay money, I taught my first grandchild to cheer. And I agree. I enjoy not worrying about it. I see that it’s a metaphor for other qualities, like power and success. But I also see where immense wealth would lead. I’d have to give some of it away. Call it charity or good works or philanthropy, but it’s a payment toward self-respect. I’d endeavor to endow. And that would mean most of my energy would have to go into evaluating the merits of many endowees. What a hideous vision. I’d hate to spend my time that way.
I was an impatient child. I was daily frustrated with the powerlessness of my position. I couldn’t wait to grow up. My father used to advise me to enjoy my carefree years. He predicted that I’d look back on childhood when I had bills to pay and I’d regret not appreciating my early years of ease. I disagreed with him and of course I heard the indisputable “You’ll understand what I’m saying when you’re older.” But now I am and still I don’t.
I marvel at my ability to earn the money it takes to support myself. I don’t mind paying bills at all compared to how I savor making my own decisions about food and sleep and clothes and language. I see how work hones me. I live in the body of a hunter-gatherer and I use a degenerating brain, so it improves my condition for me to walk for transportation, and not use speed-dial functions and other time-saving devices in the electronic environment. It strikes me that most labor-saving tools are actually time-saving tools. Saving time is not a proper goal unless I intend to use the saved time well.
Bad work is the type that carries uncontrollable stress. But work that you can work with? Stress over which you have some control? That’s what we were born to do.
It’s understood among liberal parents. It’s implicit in Berkeley. Everyone wants the best education for their kids. Whatever for? Aren’t these parents thinking about what education is? Of course it consists of the steps in math and science, the study of language, and time for art, but education is mostly about exposure and training in how to answer questions and solve problems. I didn’t understand the “college tour” either. I watched my kids’ friends travel to campuses with their parents and I thought “Fine if they want one more family vacation, but then call it that. A college tour? What college campus isn’t attractive enough?” Every child deserves an adequate education. It has to be good enough. That’s all.
It’s a small but true observation: many people tell others what they think should be done when they are young, and some fixer-types never stop giving advice, but most functional grownups I know say something like this – “I used to waste my time telling so-and-so my opinion, but s/he never listened. Why give advice that’s unheeded?”
I marvel at that reluctance. Has the speaker never actually tried to advise? Because let me tell you – I have, and I learned that when my advice is attended, I have a continuing job with a lot of uncontrollable work.
If my recommendation is followed, I’m going to feel at least partly responsible for the result. This is true even if what I’m providing is as mundane as travel directions or a restaurant pick. That responsibility becomes weighty if the matter is about someone’s personality. If I dispense and my words are received, then I’ll have to watch for the result. I’ll probably even have to participate in it. But if I know my interlocutor will take note but not action from me, I’m home free. I can speak the truth without creating obligation for myself.
I was a season past my third birthday when I ceased being an only child. My brother’s birth changed my life completely. Not only did his existence transform our family from a cozy threesome to a camp of two grownups and two kids, but it introduced me to bigotry.
People treated him differently than they did me. This was true a bit of my father, more of my mother, and mostly of other family and friends. Not because he was an infant; because he was a boy.
I didn’t get it. I saw his penis a lot, and I saw his personality more. He was not fundamentally different from me. I admired my father and I often imagined being male. I could detect no significant difference between my brother and me except what we peed through.
As I matured I learned there were many other differents. There were people with dark skin, folks with brightness-protecting eyelids, families that dressed their little girls in elaborate dresses and jewelry, young men who served in the Navy and disembarked in order to harass my friends and me. I noted the diversity and often pretended to be other than I am.
It is now obvious to me that a prejudiced person is someone who simplifies the other, generalizes about those simplicities, and fails to imagine being the other. Really. Bigots choose slogans and mottos instead of the messier work of empathy. I get it that it’s easier. What I don’t understand is how the bigot manages to ignore the persistent thread of shame. He knows it ain’t so, but he retreats to the comfort of the commons, broadcasting hate as he covers his back. That makes him not proud of himself. How can he persist?
People are complicated. We all notice this about ourselves, and the best of us know it’s also true of everyone else. Each person is so complicated that authors have to simplify them and generalize or the characters they write about won’t be coherent. No sooner would the author make one statement about a personality than he would have to, in honesty, add a qualifier or mention an exception to what he just wrote. The author has to take the character for granted in order to permit the character to be present.
In like fashion, one cannot live intimately with a mate unless one sometimes ignores the other, occasionally sums the other up, and often disregards the nuances of the other’s mood. To do otherwise would paralyze. In many successful marriages, the wife spends so much energy considering her husband’s desires that her personality begins to dissolve.
There’s no question that marriage helps when you’re struggling for food, clothing, a roof, health care, or citizenship. It appears that two parents are the best situation for growing kids. But in most cases, over time, marriage means keeping secrets about yourself from the other. And it exhausts the will to understand the other; there’s too much you have to accomplish every day to afford that kind of room.
When I was young and utopian, I tried to come up with an alternative to traditional marriage. I wanted a culture where adults could be friends and children could trust adults. The design that emerged was quasi-communal. It was a village-like compound consisting of a large house for the women and children surrounded by private cottages for the men. I imagined that each woman would have her own room and bath. Kitchen facilities and children space would be shared in the big house. Men would dwell singly in the surrounding cottages, like a ring of covered wagons. All children would know they could consult any adult. The grownups could socialize discretely and discreetly.
I can still imagine that village. It’s as vivid to me as the idea of free public transit.
I miss having a partner when I want support. I feel lonely when I’m sick or worried or sad. But I’m not often sick, worried, or sad. It makes no sense to choose a condition that serves such a limited purpose.
I’ve been around a number of unhappy couples. Over and over I’ve watched them count their blessings, extol the ability to compromise, and assess the relationship’s success by length of time rather than quality of interaction. Always I’ve seen a fear of loneliness and heard an assertion that a life unshared is a life unlived.
The truth is, staying in a stale relationship inhibits personal development. And happiness, like sleep, is a solo experience. My physical triumphs – bearing children, cycling up a mountain pass, winning a high school parade competition – were among others, but I experienced them alone. Those joyful dialogs were between me and my body.
I appreciate the union that is born of shared hardship, but it’s kind of corny if there is no bona fide hardship. I’m lucky enough to be fortunate.
When I ride shotgun in a car on an unclogged freeway, I have trouble staying awake. The motion lulls me. Unlike the driver I don’t have to pay attention; there’s little to stop me from napping.
I call the condition “velocitization.” And I think we’re all getting velocitized by our planet.
We’re speeding around the sun. We’re whipping around our axis. There’s a tendency to settle into the motion, and nod off.
We need to resist that. We may disagree about the purpose of existence but no one argues about our obligation to pay attention and remember. In fact, every religion and cult philosophy endeavors to wake us up, with devices such as dress codes, dietary restrictions, prohibiting bathroom breaks, elaborating sex rules. They’re all the same that way: the best attempt to improve our lives by pushing us off auto-pilot; and the worst try to manipulate us by giving us emotional connections and cathartic release and knowing we’ll do just about anything to get more.
We don’t need them. We can jostle ourselves awake. We can give ourselves sufficient cardiovascular activity and socializing and grazing on unrefined foods. We can get the big picture by allowing time in our problem-solving endeavors for the right lobes of our brains to be heard. We can work on our balance: practice until we’re not so afraid to fall as we age that we cease venturing out at all.
These conditions and their requests seem obvious to me. They glare against the murky background of people who seldom consider where they’re trying to go. Why don’t other people notice?