The other night, I found myself involved in a deep conversation with a young woman. She was expressing her concerns about how unsure she was of her future in life and which direction she should be heading in. It’s always a difficult decision to make, and I don’t think we ever really figure it out – if we do believe we’ve figured things out, we’re probably just lying to ourselves to make us feel better. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about this and he called it “Bad Faith.” You can read more about it here to get the general idea of it.
As our conversation was progressing, my thoughts kept turning towards my grandmother and how she has never settled in her life like all her friends have. She’s over 80 years old now, a widow of nearly 10 years, after 50 years of marriage, but is still as active in the community and socially as she was when she was 18/19 and going to college. She has never lived a rich life, but has had a life that people could only dream of. When she met my grandfather, he must have been greatly influenced by her because he left his current girlfriend (with plans to marry in the near future) and ended up marrying my grandmother. Their rush to marry was because my grandfather accepted a position that would have them moving to China to work with the YMCA (much more Christian then than it is now).
As I was saying, my grandmother continues to live life to the fullest, even after the passing of her husband. In the 9 years since he passed away, she’s been to Scotland (the island of Iona), England (to study at Oxford for a few weeks), is currently in Australia for the second time in three years, went on a cruise in November (a week before leaving for Australia) and last year spent time in the Caribbean with her brothers. She still goes to church weekly, works the soup kitchen, was a member on a few boards until recently, takes classes at the Senior’s centre in Regina (classes are taught by former or current professors), and donates her time to refugee families. Meanwhile, her friends are either dying or are stuck at home, content to play bridge daily and watch television. She’s a remarkable woman, and I’m lucky to have lived with her for two years and then have a steady relationship with her for another six years after moving out.
With all that on my mind while talking with this young woman, I started to think about how I could put that all together into a meaningful philosophy to follow when going through life. My mind went back to my theatre studies and the postmodern performance groups and how they develop their works to present to the public. The postmodernists are more concerned with the process rather than the end result – meaning the rehearsal periods for postmodernists is more of play time, experimenting with movement, delivery, ultimately more poetic than traditional theatre which rehearses to refine, discover what’s “right,” what “works,” what will please the audience.
Translating that into life is rather difficult to achieve because our society, like the traditional theatre, is industrialized and focused on producing. If we aren’t producing valuable and good work, than we’ve failed as a person. Our learning processes at school teach us right from wrong, test us to make sure we know the differences, showing us how to apply mathematic formulas to a problem to solve it. When we go out to buy an item, it has to be a finished work. No one would pay $20 for a book that’s half-complete or filled with errors, nor would we want to pay for an airflight that takes 20 hours when it normally takes two. We are so focused on getting to the end that we kind of forget how to enjoy getting there.
There are glimpses of our society catching onto this way of living – living to enjoy while in pursuit of the end. I would speculate that a large majority of people enjoy playing instruments, singing, creative writing, or doing science experiments and getting their hands dirty. People go to the gym to work on their bodies, not because they want to get results that day, but because it feels good and overtime they do see the changes happening. More and more people are interested in eco-tourism – getting out into nature and experiencing it without the commercialized side effects of Disney World or Broadway musicals. But the question is: how do we make this more mainstream?
The individual life could start making these changes, especially if they’re younger in life. What I suggested to this woman was to find something tangible in your life that means something to you, and build off of it. Pick up that piece of string laying on the ground and follow it to the end. Forget about old goals of getting rich, supporting your kids and so on. Say the typical life is around 75 years of age. It takes 17 years for a child to be at the point where they can really start making decisions for themselves, and 18 years before we can really have children. Half your life is spent growing up so you can have children and then raising them. What about the other 30 some years, though? We can’t live life and after the kids graduate high school/college breathe a collective sigh and say, “Finally!” Life doesn’t end until we die. We should push on until the bitter end, because really, who knows what’s around the corner.
Is this a practical way of living? Of course not, but being practical is old-thinking. Safe and conservative is becoming increasingly even more boring to life. Maybe it made sense when people settled in the New World, but you still had the daily risks of wild animals, fires, Natives, crazy neighbours, etc. Life now is becoming more refined. We’re eliminating disease, improving medical methods, building safer cars, safer houses, and so forth.