As if to buttress some comforting conclusion of my own, a young squirrel skittered through the Japanese maple across the street this morning, halting here and there and then hanging upside-down as a means of reaching and eating otherwise unreachable shoots. Based on years past, I have dubbed the tree "The Tree of the Hanging Squirrels," partly because the name is savory and partly because the facts always bring with them a small delight.
It is strange to think that there are those who will say "it is what it is" and yet in the very saying, it isn't at all what it "is." It's like aiming a rubber band off the tip of the thumb only to have the rubber band reverse course and smack you in the eye. It is what it is.
In passing, my older son, 21, said to me yesterday, "When anyone mentions politics or religion, my eyes glaze over." I was utterly sympathetic on the one hand and yet felt (uselessly) that I should point out that even if politics and religion bore you deaf, dumb and blind, still, as a matter of common sense, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with both or either: The society of others is a human drive and not having some idea what makes others tick is a recipe for pain or worse. No need for criticism or praise ... just a little familiarization strikes me as sensible.
Is there anyone who has not been bored deaf, dumb and blind by the enthusiasms of another? Baseball, the stock market, a love affair, religion, politics ...? On and on and on and on. It's a tedious business that recalls the comic's suggestion: "Why don't you take a big swallow of shut-the-fuck-up." The drive for human contact is compelling, but sometimes the price is too high.
But if it is hard to be enveloped by someone else's enthusiasms, what happens when your own enthusiasms begin to fray and you wish to god they would shut the fuck up?
The other day, a friend of mine described being invited out to dinner by a young guy who had become newly-interested in Buddhism. My friend has spent some time tilling that soil and the young guy was looking to him for counsel ... and imagined that because my friend had a longtime interest, he was wiser and better informed and, most important, was every bit as enthusiastic as he was. On the one hand, the young man was correct in seeking out someone who was better informed. On the other, his enthusiasm and the invitation to share in that enthusiasm, was tedious and misguided. "Buddhism is just part of my life," my friend observed with a mildly-crabby tone. And then, with a make-lemonade-when-life-serves-you-lemons resignation: "Oh well, I got a good steak out of it."
Aldous Huxley once wrote, more or less, "If the intellectual travels long enough and far enough, he will return to the same point from which the non-intellectual never started." Even leaving the "intellectual" out of it, I think this is true: Take any topic, be drawn to it, dig deep-deeper-deepest into its deliciousness until, one day, the enthusiasm and praise wears thin and there is nothing for it but to start sniffing the edges of the negative aspects that helped form the impetus for the original determination to plumb the depths. All that's left, it seems, is the 'other' side of the coin.
In Buddhism, for example, there are the precepts -- suggestions for a level-headed and peaceful life that include things like don't-kill, don't-steal, don't-lie ... the usual roster. These are serious matters that may require a very healthy dose of determination and effort. At first, such suggestions burn very bright. Very bright indeed for the enthusiastic traveler. They are truly very good suggestions, very good pointers.
But then, perhaps, drip by drop, a recognition takes shape: In the midst of this determined enthusiasm, I recognize that I do kill, I do steal, I do lie and there is no getting around it. The precepts exist because they cannot be kept. While this may come as a disheartening recognition at first, perhaps bit by bit it is more interesting than it is disheartening. It is fertile soil in soil that may otherwise be played out. This is not to say that anyone would want to take up a life of self-serving crime ... it's just an interesting 'other' side of the coin.
And then, perhaps, the dime begins to drop: The 'other' side of the coin is not the other side of the coin because there simply is no 'other' ... or no coin ... pick your poison. This too can occasion enthusiasm for a while ... how about them apples!? For a while, this offers a new realm of enthusiasm, a new and flavorful shoot, a new venue in which to bore yourself deaf, dumb and blind.
And then the comedian's words ring out with a brand new meaning: "Why don't you take a big swallow of shut-the-fuck-up?!" Cut the crap with "it is what it is" and all the rushing around making it what it isn't. Stop being so goddamned borrrrrrrring!
But of course all this is easier said than done sometimes. Based on past interests and activities, there will always be a young and enthusiastic visitor nudging and prodding and smiling and ... well, everything is so important! It's important = I'm important ... and after hanging around with me all these years ....
Well, you can see why someone might want a good steak.
Or a nice upside-down dinner in the Japanese maple across the street.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." The drive for human connection is great. But how great could it be when the 'connection' already exists?
When I grow up, I believe I will be a squirrel.