Taking Action, Stepping Out, Making Meaning

My husband was diagnosed with diabetes after his first heart attack when he was 31 years old.  He died 16 years later from coronary artery disease, kidney failure, and other complications of diabetes.  He was sleeping in bed next to me and never woke up.  I unplugged his dialysis machine, his CPAP machine, and his insulin pump that morning and set him free.  That was 3 and a half years ago.  My eldest child got the idea the next year that she wanted to do something to honor her father and take action to support diabetes research.  She and 2 of her siblings participated in a fundraiser called StepOut Walk to Stop Diabetes.  I was really impressed by her initiative and her civic action.  I joined her the next year with Steve; the siblings had moved west by then.  This year, we are all going to participate together.  All 4 siblings and mom with a few significant others alongside.   Our goal is to raise some money, to honor Jim, and to be involved in positive action as a grieving family.   (If you want to donate money on behalf of our team, go to http://main.diabetes.org/goto/pgalasso)

Team Galasso 2010

Do I expect that our participation will cause this disease to be eradicated?  Well, not really.  Do I imagine that Jim will feel honored and bring some good fortune to us from the spirit world?  Not exactly.  Do I hope that our sorrow will abate and our self-esteem will soar as we pat ourselves on the back for “giving back” to the community and “fighting” for a cause?  Actually, I don’t.  All of those things are ego-based and not very realistic.  What am I really doing, then?  Well, I think of it as “pointing the canoe” again.  I see that people suffer from this disease.  I see that certain kinds of medical technology and education have been used to ease that suffering.   I want to paddle my canoe, make some effort, toward helping those who suffer, not because I believe that I can rescue someone, but because it is how I want to live.  I want to honor Jim and remember him because that’s how I want to live.  I want to work with my family’s grief because that’s how I want to live.  I don’t know if any particular thing will result; I don’t expect to become noble or perfect or anything.  I do know that paddling in that way lets me choose a purpose and work toward it.  I suppose it helps my mind to be directed toward meaning.

So, why are we humans always looking for meaning?  Inquiring minds want to know…

That Steven Colbert report clip from the Approximate Chef suggests that we want to feel safe about the ending of the story.  We tell ourselves, “It’s okay, because it turns out this way; I know it does”.  That gives us, what, control?  Last night I had a dream about  meeting “the woman who owned the house” of the estate sale I went to yesterday.  I don’t even know that a woman lived there.  In fact, it was quite a masculine log cabin, with a boat and a mounted moose head dominating the decor.  What was my subconscious trying to figure out?  Well, I was trying to assure myself that this family was okay.  They were selling all their stuff.  They were letting strangers into their house to buy their belongings.  There has to be a story there.  I just went through the sale of my family home.  I had emotions about it.  I had a story.  I imagine that there are people behind these things with an emotional story, and I want to be told that they are okay.  I want to be satisfied that there is some meaning to the sale of these possessions.   Ultimately, I want to know that I’m okay, that my story has a happy ending.  (Steve always tells me that everyone in your dream is really you.)

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl comes to mind.  I read parts of it.  Is this how we keep ourselves sane in “stressful” circumstances?  Is it just a game?  If it works, does it matter?  If I am not dogmatically asserting that my actions are ultimately meaningful, just saying that I find meaning in them and that is useful to me, does that make my position more authentic?  Can I make up a satisfying story about the family in the cabin and then say, “I know it’s not ‘true’, but I like to tell myself this story to calm my neuroses” and still be considered ‘sane’?  Do most of us do this anyway?  Does that make it ‘normal’ then?  I suppose I could give that up and face the fact that I won’t know every story.  Perhaps I would be far more sane to learn to live with ambiguity and uncertainty and meaninglessness.   What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Taking Action, Stepping Out, Making Meaning

  1. Can I make up a satisfying story about the family in the cabin and then say, “I know it’s not ‘true’, but I like to tell myself this story to calm my neuroses” and still be considered ‘sane’? Do most of us do this anyway? Does that make it ‘normal’ then?

    Yes, yes, and yes. Making up stories from varied sensory details to make a coherent picture of what is happening around you is the primary function of your large cerebral cortex. What is unusual is the heightened self-awareness that allows you to see when the stories you make up aren’t ‘true’.

  2. Everyone in your dreams is either a notion or interpretation invented by you, but they do not all represent you, unless maybe you believe that the entire universe is you. But if that were true then the very concept of you dreaming would be so damn boring I wouldn’t want to know.

    • A notion or interpretation invented by you says something about you, so even if it doesn’t represent you, it represents your thinking, right? Like if Salvador Dali does a painting of Mae West, you could say that the painting represents Mr. Dali, AND you could say the painting represents Ms. West. “Everyone in your dream is you.” “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” And maybe the entire universe is me, depending on that definition of ‘is’. Are we our thinking? Is the universe our thinking? I think that the way that we think is pretty interesting. And I don’t know if there’s any ultimately “right” way to think about the universe.

  3. I was trying to make a visual “rimshot,” something following a bad joke, with silly text trick. Didn’t work, never mind.

    Everything you dream has an aspect or property of you because it happens within you. Still, I was trying to say that some things, subjects, objects, whatever that you dream about come to you from the outside. Your memories that filter to you in dreams are shaped by external events. You can chose to believe that the universe is entirely within you, that everything you experience is your creation rather than having an external existence. Throwaway jokes aside, I personally it boring for the reason the analytical philosophers also reject that kind of thing: if you use language to equivocate everything, you forgo making statements with a meaning that others can address, whatever you think you’re doing. (Of course I don’t mean “you,” the one and only Scillagrace, my dear sister. I just don’t like using the impersonal pronoun “one” for whatever reason.) The logic of believing in objective reality has just been worked over so many times that people who try to attack it with semantics are reinventing Spam.

    PS, this is also the kind of jerky thing Dad always needed to point out. Since I finally came to understand why, maybe I’ll eventually get better at explaining it too.

  4. “if you use language to equivocate everything, you forgo making statements with a meaning that others can address” I guess I’m trying to use language to expand concepts beyond dualistic thinking and include change and movement. Science likes to nail things down like dead specimens on a table, but the living thing is dynamic and defies description sometimes.

  5. Remember Mr. MacDonald, the biology teacher? He spent a whole semester telling us there was no such thing as “life.” I insist on a standard of systematic description mostly so that I can confront people like him on their own terms and beat them. (But of course that has nothing to do with the purpose of your life or your blog.)

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