The Examined Life, Part 2

It goes on, slowly. The designated miscellaneous stuff closet is slowly being emptied of photographs and old records and things we thought too good to throw out in the moment, things that have gone far past their moment now. Out they go. I pause at nearly everything. The first business license, an old driver’s license, something our daughter dashed out in crayon in preschool, sometimes even photos that record earlier waypoints of my life, people and places now left behind, passed beyond.

And there’s all the old writing. A good-sized box of it, much of it typewritten, dating from 1982 to 1990, when I bought my first computer. My art. Words, expressing thoughts and feelings in musings and vignettes, short stories and poetry, essays and word scraps.

Behind my studied gaze at these things there’s a sort of twitching, tail-switching ambivalence about the value of it all. Is the present the only worthwhile place to exist? Is the past done with, gone beyond, even non-existent? Yet these things are in the present, and the present is tethered to the past by them.

Thomas Wolfe observed that the artist seeks “… to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity.”

In my exploration of the written archives of my life and my current reflections on the simultaneous insignificance and exquisite uniqueness of every person’s life, I’ve been seeking a place where the past and present are comfortably reconciled. It’s a puzzle I’ve been slowly putting together. Now, after trying on the perspective that the past is gone and non-existent and unworthy of attention – and never really being settled comfortably into the notion – I see my way.

It’s all of a piece. Past and present and future. Notwithstanding all the guidance set out by gurus of every rank and ilk and age and era exhorting me to “be here now,” I am inclined to think that those exhortations have been abbreviated and truncated by well-meaning efforts to tailor them to simple statements for simple minds. What has been omitted is the information that past, and present, and future – are all here, now.

This has been a topic of speculative conversation for awhile around here, and this morning Lenore and I nailed it down. A proof, yet again, of the power of the place where two (or more) are gathered together. She’s been reading Eric Hoffer’s “The True Believer.” She bookmarked Hoffer’s observations for me about how mass movements affect the perspective on the past, present and future in the minds of their true-believing adherents and the recruits they proselytize.

I read it, and it’s all about imbalance. Too much focus on one or the other or the other, and never a balance of all three. The culmination of our resultant discussion being a conversation which came shortly thereafter.

I was going out the backdoor with the firewood sling, on my way to get another bundle of chunks and splits to stack by the stove. It’s going to be a rainy, chilly weekend here and I’d just used up the last to start the morning fire, but Lenore didn’t know I’d already done that. We usually have two fires, one in the morning and another at night.

“Looks like we’re going to have a fire,” she said to Charlie. He wagged his tail. He likes fires in the stove.

“We already have one,” I said, “I’m just going out to get some more wood for the one tonight.”

Lenore cropped from Baby GabeShe is so quick. She looks at me, and twinkles – you have see it to know what I’m talking about – and she says, “So-oo, there’s a fire in the past that you started that’s in the present now, and there’s a fire in the future that you’re starting now, in the present.”

I love this girl.

It’s all of a piece. Balance – that’s the thing.

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