When I was a kid, the worst torture my parents could ever inflict upon me was forcing me to go to bed… Especially when they were planning on staying awake, or even worse, when we were entertaining company. Lying in my bed, eyes closed but straining to hear snippets of the conversation through the door of my bedroom, I poignantly remember feeling like I was missing everything that mattered in the world.
Earlier today I read an article about the twelve biggest scientific breakthroughs that took place in 2012. As I was reading it, I caught myself wistfully imagining and hoping that the singularity becomes a real thing before I die and the world Cory Doctorow spoke of in “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” could become a reality before I die and it’s too late. I managed to look at these thoughts and feelings objectively enough to realize that I’m genuinely saddened at the idea of dying. And not because of what comes after death; I think just as when I was a child I’m saddened at the idea of missing out on the good parts.
Lately my head keeps tumbling down the same rabbit holes; questions on the purpose of art and examining humanity and the world on a macro level. I feel like I’m walking a narrow path with chasms on either side of me. On one side, the world is so big, so vast, filled with so many people that my own insignificance as a person in the history of the universe is inescapable and utterly suffocating. On the other, I’m one of the lucky ones that will somehow manage to be here forever and get to see all the amazing things that humanity could do.
Somehow, walking between these two alternate paradigms, I’m beginning to find my own world view is changing. More and more I find myself looking at the world in broad strokes. I showed up here in 1984. Like everyone else, I’m working under the assumption that I’ve got about seventy years (give or take) to experience this strange and wonderful and complicated and horrifying world that we live in.
How I choose to fill the remainder of those years I have left is completely up to me… More and more I’m feeling like our lives are just 70 year experiments in which the best we can hope for is to reach some amount of self-actualization before all is said and done .
The weird thing about this idea is that it both limits and expands my world simultaneously. While I could get lost in the minutiae of the world or in the infinite legitimate and valid causes that need support, remembering that I’m just a dude with a few more years under his belt to live the life he’s always dreamed of helps to ease the crippling paralysis that comes with seeing just how big and difficult the world can be.
On the flip side, the fact that my time on this planet is so limited is a constant reminder to live in the present and to do what I can while I’m here to cause and affect as much as possible. Because my wife is friggin’ awesome, so was my Christmas. Among the booty I scored this year was a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors. It’s called “Death: The Time of Our Life” and it’s… Well, it’s weird.
At one point the main character, an acoustic rock-star begins examining the nature of art. She says, “And sitting there, listening to her, it occurred to me that the whole of art–maybe the whole of life– is just spray-painting your name on a wall, hoping that someone will see it after you’ve gone.”
I could see that. I think I’m feeling my priorities begin to move from simply keeping myself entertained, to wanting to participate in something bigger than myself. I want to have a hand in creating art that brings a community together. I want to see that community grow and thrive and be changed by the things I say and do. And I want to be just as changed by them.
What about you? What do you want out of your time on this planet? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you dream of having done by the time you slip off this mortal coil? And most importantly, what are you doing right now to ensure you see that dream become a reality?