In a Strange Land: Fourteen

In the hour of my death, would I regret that my life had no meaning? Should that be a regret, after all?

It seemed that some people—often those who offered sage advice about aging—advocated a search for meaning in one’s life. It was seemingly a noble cause. If you wanted to feel that you had successfully grown old, then you must find a meaning or a purpose for yourself.

I hadn’t done it yet.

I imagined the scenario at the end of my life. There I would be, my life blinking down to its very last moment. Would I be asking myself what my life meant? If I had followed the sage advice I would have my answer ready. My search for meaning and purpose would be over by then. If I had successfully aged, I would have found my meaning. Just before my life’s final blink, I would be able to answer myself: This was my meaning. This was my purpose.

Putting aside the question of whether, having discovered my meaning, I would be able to achieve it fully before that final hour, I had begun to question whether finding meaning and purpose was so important. In the end, who would know that I had found my meaning? For that matter, would I myself know that I had found it?

More important than finding meaning, it seemed to me, was choosing a way of being. A way of being was part instinct, part inclination.

Not being too mawkish about it, I chose a way of being that was motivated by kindness and appreciative of the kindness of others. It was a way of an open heart and an open mind. It was a way of seeking beauty and of finding joy in the beauty that I found. Beauty, I thought, was not just in the eye of the beholder. It was a shared experience, and being so it was so much larger than myself. Discovering how I could participate—exploring the extent of my own ability to create beauty—this seemed to be a worthy cause, a righteous purpose, even.

It was a pursuit of the awesome. It was an experiment in making my ethical will.

There was no end-point to this exploration, this quest for discovery. There was no meaning to be finally found. There would always be something that I could not reach. A way of being was not a goal. It was a process.

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Surviving the Trumping Down of America

When something goes wrong
I’m the first to admit it
I’m the first to admit it
But the last one to know

(Paul Simon, Something So Right)

Every month, for the first year of his presidency, I reported here some of the events of the Trump administration that were most disturbing and disheartening to me. I called the series of posts “Something So Wrong.” Pick a month, something so wrong happened:

Issuing an order banning Muslims from entering the United States (January); expediting deportation of unauthorized immigrants (February); supporting health care legislation that would end health insurance coverage for 24 million people (March); directing the Secretary of the Interior to reopen previously protected areas in the Arctic Ocean and Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas leasing (April); telling the Russian Ambassador that firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved the pressure he had felt from the investigation Comey was pursuing into Russian meddling in the US election (May); announcing that the US would unilaterally withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change (June); announcing that transgender persons would not be allowed to serve in the US military (July);  defending white nationalist groups by blaming “both sides” for the violence that erupted in Charlottesville after a “Unite the Right” rally left one person dead (August); ordering the end to the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program as of March 5, 2018 (September); refusing to certify Iran’s compliance with the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (October); appointing budget director Mick Mulvaney to be acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that Mulvaney, as a member of Congress, had proposed eliminating (November); signing the Republican tax-cut bill that reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent while enacting temporary individual tax reduction provisions that expire in 2025 while also eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to have health insurance, opening 1.5 million acres of the Alaska National Wildlife refuge to oil drilling, and adding $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit by 2027 (December).

Donald Trump, the earwig of American politics, is the annoyance you can’t get out of your head. I resent the time stolen from my day, every day, by thoughts of what he is doing and has done to tear the country apart.

Over the course of my lifetime I have witnessed the nation’s progress to become more perfect—in race relations and civil rights, for example, or in environmental policy, for another—progress that I have witnessed with some measure of optimism. Now all that is being systematically undone, and with that undoing I am finding it more and more difficult to feel optimistic.

The “Something So Wrong” series was a kind of bearing witness, a calling-out of what is going on and going wrong, but it also consumed a significant number of hours of my life to research, write and condense. I have decided to discontinue the series. Wrong things will continue to happen, but readers of this blog have many news sources available for more complete information about political events than I could ever provide in a few short paragraphs. I will reclaim my time. It does not belong to Donald Trump, after all.

It has become a matter of survival—survival of some enduring flame of optimism, perhaps. For me, survival does not mean disengagement from the news, but it does mean consciously re-centering, reminding myself of what is most important to me in my remaining years.

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