Getting Light 2015: The Examined Life

The archaeology continues. I’ve descended into ever-older layers, finding scraps of writing and mementoes marking people, places, things, thoughts, and feelings I have met, and reflections I made upon those encounters, many on bits of faded and torn paper.

Among other things I’ve found old poems, my original US Selective Service Notice of Classification card, and the original copy of a traffic citation for driving with an expired license plate which I ignored and which eventually, a couple of years later – in combination with a Judge who had an axe to grind with the Prosecutor’s office and ignored a negotiated plea to assert his authority at my collateral expense – resulted in a three day stay in the Clark County Jail.

Bob Emmitt Camera Cover 02I also found a yellowing copy of the Boulder Daily Camera Sunday Magazine of August 28, 1983. It features an interview with my friend Bob Emmitt entitled “The Stuff of Legend.” Which he was. It may be one of the few copies left. I can’t find it in online archives, so I’ll hold on to it for now with an eye toward forwarding it to the Boulder Library Carnegie Branch, which does save such things.

It seems appropriate that these things are moldering flakes, falling away, the shed skins of earlier versions of me. The gestalt of who I am, here and now, is an incorporated sum of it all, a greater wholeness. The parts are optional, particular, and obscure. The resultant thing, greater than the sum of its parts – that’s the real thing. It’s here and now, not there and then.

After exploring these layers of earlier lives lived I’m inclined to think that the examined life is a process which, while necessary, is best concluded with.

So much of what I have saved and recorded in my writing is concentrated on personal examinations of personal experiences. A small arena it would seem, considering the wealth and wisdom of countless volumes bequeathed to humanity by the ages. Yet it seems to me that to examine one’s own personal and particular life experiences, and the terribly intimate context there, proves to be a very good way to know those wisdoms rather than to merely know of them primarily through the accounts of others.

I tend now to generally regard sharing my personal and particular experiences with others as superfluous, and even ill-advised, especially when I behold the vast internet oceans of self-published biographies, most of which could be summed up with a succinct statement like, “While I was here I lived a life, and figured out some things.”

Yet there is something which drives us to share the particulars of our lives. Elsewhere I have observed this is so because the individual life of a human being is always a brand new thing, unique and particular, and it is the one thing each of us does better than anyone else ever has, or ever will. It is the one thing which is eternally new under the sun. We live our life. It’s the rarest thing in the universe, this life we live. It’s a unique gem, exclusive, it can’t be duplicated and never will be. We live in creation, and we call it that because every life is a new creation, the first and last of its kind. And knowing that, we desire to share the unique particulars of our own lives.

We are hunters and gatherers of food for body and mind; we locate our sources and resources and extrapolate from them principles which continually and consistently serve and supply us. We are communal and connected, and so we share these things with our tribe. And sometimes we can only communicate the essence of it all through the story of our particular lives.

As I say, I am conflicted in that. I have always sought the principles behind the particulars. If I were able, I would speak only of those principles and not the personal circumstances wherein I recognized them.

I guess I’d have to say that at this point there are many things I’ve let go of in favor of the greater thing they became a part of, and some things which I have not let go of because I am still locating the truth within them.

In this process of “getting light” there seems to be a cascade effect, a burgeoning release of particulars, growing ever stronger; yet there is, too, a simultaneous recognition that the parts of a gestalt can be honored without detracting from the innate holiness of the transcended sum. So some things are being thrown out, and others held on to, at least for now. In the end only the essence will remain, and all the parts will fade into the ages, as all parts do, like tears in rain.

Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in Rain,” the final soliloquy of the warrior cyborg in the movie Blade Runner, is considered one of the best death soliloquies in the history of film, and perhaps it best sums up the forces in play here as I survey the artifacts of my own past. There is something within us which wants at least to say, if only as we die, that we have seen and endured and encountered things in the particulars of our lives which others cannot begin to imagine – terrible, beautiful things which mark our unique presence here:

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”

There is also a Rilke quote relevant to this sorting and letting go process I am doing now, about that place where the divine and existential unite:

“…we are continually overflowing toward those who preceded us, toward our origin, and toward those who seemingly come after us. … It is our task to imprint this temporary, perishable earth into ourselves so deeply, so painfully and passionately, that its essence can rise again “invisibly,” inside us. We are the bees of the invisible. We wildly collect the honey of the visible, to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible.”

Rilke’s remark resonates particularly well with me in its embrasure of living a full, passionate life and his recognition of the spiritual honey gathered from a full-on, sometimes wild engagement there. And that is the counterpoint I hear whenever I consider consigning a scrap found in my archives to the dust bin of eternity.

It’s an interesting process.

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