Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lives of Quiet Desperation

Chickens Roasting at Goschenhoppen
Last Summer
What do we really need? As I'm watching TV tonight with our friend Earl, I'm struck by the dichotomy of our worlds. Earl lives with very little by his own choice, but this morning he asked to come in for the weekend because of the impending blizzard. You can read about him HERE. On Saturdays, I visit Earl with soup and a sandwich. This morning, as I was handing him his breakfast, he said "Maybe I'll come in for the weekend. It's up to you.", and I was happy he did, because this snowstorm is supposed to be a whopper. Peter and Earl have been watching old movies all day, and I've been feeding them warm soup and muffins and coffee. But that's not what I've been thinking about.
I'm watching TV as I make my weekly soup in the kitchen today. While I stand at the stove, I'm seeing ads about fashion and decorating, the perfect way to fillet a shrimp for that extra-fabulous appetizer, the latest exercise programs being touted by an amazingly well-preserved 45 year old Christie Brinkley, fiction about vampires and princes, and the repetitive dire weather warnings that precede a blizzard. I'm hearing about automobile accidents and car insurance, the stock market and Tiger Wood's conquests and shame. And I'm watching an elderly man who has lived outdoors for 25 years kiss my cat and laugh at the joke he just told my husband. He's watching two men fence in an old movie called "Scaramouche"; he told me he likes James Bond and cowboy movies. What does it mean to him? What do we really need?
We need food, certainly. We need to be able to protect our bodies so they don't freeze or become diseased. We need companionship, whether from people or animals; sometimes we need more, sometimes less. We need wonderment; whether the fascination of the intricacies of a snowflake or the plot of a good book or movie. And we need peace in our souls; whether from the simplicity of our natures, from finding our centers, or from faith. I think that peace is the most important thing of all. With it, we can put away the desires that are filling the pathogenic void that many of us feel. How often have you felt uneasy, then decided to redecorate, or buy new shoes, or travel to the Bahamas? Did the unrest go away when the object of your desire was obtained, or did it just change its face? Maybe you had a drink to quiet it. Or maybe you cleaned your house, or jogged a mile or two to dispel the energy. Maybe you picked a fight with someone you live with. Maybe you had an affair. If you felt comfortable in your own skin, at peace in your soul, I believe those energies and desires might not be so intense. What do we really need?
I'm not suggesting that we all take up a nomadic life like Earl did, or take vows of poverty. I think that the key to finding that quiet place inside is to live honestly, a difficult task in the world we live in. We all live lives of compromise for so many reasons; political correctness, professional obligation, social or religious expectations. Some of us were brought up to be selfless; some of us were brought up to be social climbers. Most of us, in one way or another, chafe at the confines of our civilized lives when confronted with situations that are in conflict with our true selves. What to do? Thoreau said that "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." I think the answer is this: Let your soul sing it's own peculiar song, if just a little; then let it sing more loudly when it can, whether that happens on the weekends or the evenings, during your retirement or (if you're lucky) every day. Because living an inauthentic life is the worst kind of hell there is. We all know that our time is precious. Ask yourself: What do I REALLY need? I'm certainly thinking about that tonight.

No comments:

Post a Comment