Someone (some voice in my head) recently asked me this question: “If you had only one word to describe human existence, from your experience, knowledge, and present perspective: what would that word be?”
I heard living…being…survival…I thought – “What I think (I think, at least presently) is that you will never know, or be able to imagine, how you will survive.” The jobs you will have, the people you will grow close to or far from, the ‘successes’ or ‘failures’ your path will exhibit, struggles or ecstasies you will sustain, what you will achieve or create or ignore or forget…you cannot predict, cannot forecast, how it will actually play out. Loves, griefs, happinesses, sorrows, places, events, connections, schisms, likes/dislikes, preferences/abhorrences, and so on…
Looking back…one day…attempting to recount, account for, surmise or shape what happened!? in your life/lifetime/process – it will be surprising. Unpredictable, unaccountable, unREcountable – a lot of “who would have imagined that!?” Or that that would lead to that with her or him or them, and then that – who could have known?
Sure there are tendencies, “natural draws” as it were. I’ve continually been uncomfortable with authority, laws, sunlight, loud noises and hot weather. I’ve been consistently upset by imbalances of power, by crowds, by presuppositions and arbitrary assertions. I’ve always been a touch distressed by the power of emotions and the weakness of will/intentions. There are characteristics that appear contiguous – I’ve long been drawn to classical music / melodic / spare & melancholic sounds; I’ve always been invigorated by the rain; I’ve noticed a penchant for solitary spaces and human-less environments; a taste for progressive/reflective/informed/ intelligent culture (recognizing each of those as highly contested terms, i.e. – a fascination with communication – language, words, expressions, conventional meanings and gestures; a distaste for popularity & fame / ‘pop culture’/ mass effects; a distrust of temporary desire; an emaciated self-esteem and expansive self-concern; a craving for passion / romance / intensity of human encounter; and so on. I’ve always moved toward cool colors, particularly in the fields of grey, stormy blue, dusty browns and pine-needle green; always distrusted people who shout, yell or preach – drama, makeup, surface effects. Hell when we search for things consistent from birth to death, our lists could run quite long…and yet…
How’d we get here? What if we look at the events, the people, the places, the feelings, interactions and all the ways we recall them (at specific instances, in particular situations)?
What if we look at what we do? Whether we drink or smoke or not, get angry more or less, the ways we engage strangers / friends / family? What we read, listen to, pay attention, are distracted by (same thing), are pulled to observe, think about, and why? How much we touch? When no one needs us? When we’re alone? Or falling to sleep? Or have slipped out of the stream, have “free time,” traveling, assumed to be otherwise engaged?
If Mormons came to your door and asked “Do you believe in God?” And you, after shuffling your feet, considering your day, pondering whether you wanted to spend part of it talking with religious strangers, checking in with your dependents (in this case, 4 children that are your human charge & devotion), zipping the past through your education, upbringing, familial ties & traditions, behaviors, relationships, responsibilities, concerns, and so forth, responded “No, no, I do not find myself believing in God.” And then these polite young men said – “Well then, what do you believe in, if you don’t mind us asking?”
More shuffling, pondering, internal argument and gentleness, patience, consideration, critical inquiry…(i.e. politeness)…and “hmmmm! I haven’t been asked that directly in quite some time!” (Is it that no one wants to hear? Know? That I divert it? Don’t know? Is “care” involved?). I said something in the order of Meaning. Something to the tune of – “Well, pardon me, but I guess I must believe/think (in Wittgenstein these are inseparable), that from our atoms & cells to our bodies, relationships, labor, behaviors, emotions, environment, world, ‘cosmos’ – trying to know as much as I can about each aspect of my being a human being – I think/believe that perhaps we each try to assemble, account for, respond, act, engage, construct experiences that give a shape to, a confluence, a medium, rationale, tone that feels satisfactory to our breathing, being, seeing, feeling, happening…making meaning, I guess. Including, but oddly outstripping, simply surviving. Much that seems unnecessary (tastes, preferences, selections, refusals). Religions, philosophies, teams, employment, families, nations, entertainments, cultures and interests – all these might provide some larger structuring for our shaping, and all, no doubt, influence how we piece it together, make a kind of sense, provide potential “fits” for our choices, responses, activities and emotions…but we each also fashion all this living, this experiencing, this acting and being in apparently very idiosyncratic ways…”
“I guess I believe that this is the sort of thing we do. I guess I think/believe that…at this moment.”
I think when these considerate young men return, and to the voice in my head that constantly interviews me…next time I might just respond:
I believe that life is surprising. Unbelievable, astonishing, revelatory, frightening, sometimes shocking and amazing, astounding, uncanny and a pain/joy/ache/pleasure/exhaustion/stimulus to be wondered at.
My answer today, in one word…
Life is – surprise.