I mentioned yesterday that I was moody. I come around periodically to a place of existential crisis, and I’ve come to believe it’s good for me. When I was raising children and nursing a sick husband, I rarely got this privilege. I always had someone to pour my heart and soul into and frequently felt that my existence was thoroughly used up on a daily basis. Trouble is, this way of living was often an unexamined habit that I could go through sleep-walking. I kept my head down and convinced myself that everything I was doing was noble and important. It may have been, or it may not have been. I wasn’t really paying attention that closely.
Living with Steve is different. It’s challenging. He doesn’t want me to pour my heart and soul into caring for him. He wants me to fly on my own. I blink, open-mouthed. Fly? On my own? What the heck does that look like? He redirects my attention from outside of me to inside…all the time…and I keep imagining an empty room. What if I don’t have any inner life?
So I sit with that. Emptiness isn’t a judgment. It can be the beginning of openness.
I went poking around on the internet, looking for an answer (from outside, again…old habits die hard) to “what is important in life”. I actually found something kinda cool: this community project. An abandoned building in New Orleans is covered with chalkboard paint and stenciled with the prompt “Before I die, I want to ___”. Chalk is provided. People approach. Existential assessment goes on, and the sentence is answered. I imagine myself standing there…clouds gather, rain falls, people pass, children grow up…and I’m still scratching my head.
I thought of re-phrasing the question, changing “What is important in life?” to “What are two things you cannot live without?” They’re not exactly interchangeable, I discovered. I also discovered a great irony: I lost the two things I thought I couldn’t live without, and I’m still living. So, either they weren’t that important, or I’m not really living. Or I didn’t answer that truthfully. I thought I could not live without my husband. I thought I could not live without my Christian faith. I was wrong.
Okay, dammit, what IS important in life? What about the obvious answer…’life’? As in, “Before I die, I want to Live.” I want to live, be alive, be awake, be aware, spend myself, give my love, explore my autonomy, visit that inner room and see what’s there. But not in an ego-driven way. In an open way. The Western way prompts me, “Yes, but what will that look like when it’s all finished?” as if there’s a finish. It wants a goal, a check list with little boxes to tick, just to keep track so that it can say, “Good…I’ve done it!” That’s ego talk. The Eastern way says, “Forget the goal, the check list. You don’t need to keep track; keep open. Engage with life and have a relationship.”
That’s where I’ve gotten to so far today. How about you? What is important in your life?