Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Greatness of Life (Birthday Wishes on 30)

I'm turning 30 tomorrow. My dog (who needs a home) is turning 10 this December. We're getting old. And usually that's alright.

I'm usually okay with getting old. Sometimes, though, the heaviness of how full my life has been brings me a sadness. The buddhist in me tries to be rational and state it emphatically, "it's an illusion, it's not more real than the fleeting experiences (regardless of how full and heavy they may be) you've had. It's all gonna be okay."

I've had a number of friends and acquaintances pass-on during my short, but heavy, life. And yes, each death has lessened me, as Donne put it. I vaguely recall an afternoon conversation somewhere between Georgia and Virginia, sipping iced coffee and smoking cigarettes and an old man telling me that I was too young to regret. That I couldn't understand regret until I was an older man. And when he said that I was relieved.

Since then I have taken easily to Nietzsche's eternal return of the same and the diamond sutra and the prajnaparamitra - those made sense to younger me because in the lightening flash my life was born and it could easily snuff-out and not much would be missed - because I had not invested myself into much. But now I am older and am invested into much more than I thought I ever could be:

my family has become something more than it was, heavier
my friends have taken-on a dimension of more "more-than-me;" that is, my
friends have come to represent those parts of me that are "more-than-me," an enrichening of who I am
and out of the blue, my wife - I want to say that part of me I discover
everyday to be more and better and ever more mysterious - a mystery that becomes ever more rewarding the more I plumb the depths of that which we call life

Not only could a younger me not understand what it means to regret until I became old enough to realize how heavily we must value life (I'm not saying I have regrets, per se, I agree with Nietzsche here) but I also now understand better, paradoxically, what "ineffable" means. I have no good words for this feeling.

My lack of words was not even a consideration until I read the obituary of this parrot. I know it sounds absurd, for me to lament the passing of a parrot I never knew and in this regardyou would be right: I don't miss Alex the African Grey. Maybe I regret having not met Alex.

Animals are supposed to be the foil to Humanity: we note man's inhumanity when a human being is "animalistic" in his behavior. Animals cannot communicate (which the more liberal of Western society will debate today), but most importantly for our modern understanding of what it means to be human: animals cannot contemplate or understand their impending death.

And it is on this point that Alex the African Grey has given me pause. Please read the obituary above. This bird's last words to his life-long work partner, a PhD at Brandeis University, "You be good. I'll see you tomorrow. I love you." If I were faced with my imminent death I could think of no finer last words.

Please, be good, do good work, love well.
I will see you tomow: for my dog, Chino, tomorrow is meaningless; everytime I
leave it is the end of our togetherness and a terrible, lamentable, sight. And yet, there is always the return and so life bursts forth again.
I love you.

What more can you leave the world with? Our time together does end, and yet there is always the return. We tell each other (maybe the younger folks less so today) at New Years and Birthdays and Anniversaries, "Many more returns." I think I understand, now, why. In this way, "I love you," is a challenge, a proposition, a debt no one can shirk. The eternal returnings are only possible in love.

No comments:

Post a Comment