“I can’t handle conflict any more,” my friend said. She wanted to end her life. It wasn’t that she was miserable. She had lots to live for. She just can’t face conflict. Family conflict. World conflict. I suggested becoming a hermit instead of killing herself. There might be things worth staying alive for, like watching grandchildren grow up. Her eldest grandson just graduated from Harvard and worked full time for the Obama re-election campaign. He has a promising life ahead of him in public policy. Her youngest grandchild is 5 and full of spit and love. What will he see through his sweet tiny glasses? What will we see through him? Is there any amount of hope that counterbalances impossible and neverending conflict? Then there’s that middle grandchild, the teenage girl who smokes dope and terrorizes other girls as the school bully and dictator.
It’s the week of the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide. They are saying that as the distance grows since her death, we see her less through that lens and take her work on its merits alone. Kafka said, “The meaning of life is that it stops,” but most of us keep the stopping at arm’s length and wouldn’t dream of inviting it. Is this really our meaning? That today I might put my feet on the floor for the last time?
There are chickens outside the door pecking with their mechanized heads at birdseed. They are efficient at eating and at laying eggs. They are alive, and it is death that keeps them pecking at the seed.
Why on earth have we been given minds to devise such complications, setting us apart from other creatures as the judges and destroyers, and mourners and sufferers?
I watched a Montessori video of a one-year-old child sitting on the kitchen floor concentrating on a tin can, measuring spoons, and various other metal household objects. He examined each item, put it into the can, shook it, listened to its bangs and clangs. Then he pulled them out again, fit them together, exploring their shapes and sizes. He sat for several minutes in rapt attention.
Where is this going? We humans own such gifts! Our minds and hearts are our great treasure. We cannot, absolutely cannot control the world. And it is the very attempt by certain institutions to do so that could be our undoing.
I look to the babies. I look to the chickens, to see how to focus on a few things that are essential. Madness pecks at us while we tiptoe a path toward meaning and hope. We know. We know it can all be undone, every manmade and every unmanmade reality on earth.
Tomorrow is Love Day, and 99% of me rolls my eyes at the commercial sentimentality. (Yet I sent my littlest valentine a small gift and card with two dogs on the front who are really grammy and grandpa.) 100% of me believes we need to love better. I’ll accept that as my meaning today: This day may be my last chance to love better.