The Point of Life
Many of you know about my old friend John. But for those of you who don’t let me tell you a little bit about him. John and I became friends in 1984 by a chance meeting on an airfield. John and I were both glider pilots and nurtured a friendship that would eventually lead us to buy, share and fly a two-seater glider airplane together. We spent many a Sunday soaring the clouds and lofty skies of Colorado in our amazing engineless sailplane. I had no idea that our friendship would be so enduring. To this day John and I have seen fit to reserve one day a week to have lunch together at any of a sundry of fine local restaurants. This became the basis for what's become a friendship of thirty some years now. With rare exception we reserve one day each week, usually Thursday to have lunch together.
John's now one hundred years old and he suffers from aging. Slowly but surely his memory's fading. It’s very common for me to hear John recall the exact same short story at lunch many times over. He’s no longer able to remember that he just finished telling me the same story perhaps a few seconds ago. Mind you that though his memories tend to be good ones, perhaps those stories of his younger years as a US Navy officer in Brazil during WWII, or his many years as an attorney and judge, he’s very much aware that his memory's not so great. And whatever troubles he’s aware of he keeps to himself. I’ve learned a lot about life, about what it means to be a true gentleman from my friendship with John.
One day a few years ago as we headed out his door for our Thursday luncheon John’s wife Arlette, a delightful petite woman from Santos, Brazil asked of me a small favor.
John, would you please take John to the barber after your lunch? He needs a trim badly. You won’t have to wait with him, just drop him off and I’ll be by to pick him up when he’s finished.” My taking John out for lunch had become a weekly ritual and very much appreciated by Arlette and family, to sort of give them a little break each week from John’s sometimes challenging ways.
“Gladly,” I replied. I always agreed to Arlette’s requests. It seemed she'd become accustomed to asking little things of me that would extend my time with John. Perhaps it gave her a few more minutes of reprieve from having to tend to his aging needs. The barber shop was in another town about a half-hour away so we headed out on a short drive to one of our favorite restaurants.
After lunch we arrived at the barber shop to find it was closed. The sign on the door said that they’d be back within the hour. Apparently the barber had her own lunch hours and could close up shop whenever necessary. I had other plans for the afternoon as I often couple my weekly chores in town with my Thursday luncheon with John. I saw there was a bench just outside the barber shop. It was likely there probably for just such circumstances and I thought momentarily to maybe leave John there until the barber’s return. “No way, I’m leaving John ANYWHERE by himself without someone I know and trust to supervise him,” I thought. But it was a typical late December day, kind of cloudy, maybe even a little gray and we were dressed for such things.
“John, the barber will be back soon and Arlette will come to pick you up after your haircut. Would you like to just sit with me on the bench over there until the barber returns and we can share more stories?” I asked him. I could see the happiness on his face at the thought so we did just that.
As we sat and waited, I noticed the busy traffic passing by, the hustle and bustle of holiday fair was in full swing. It was such a beautiful day despite a nose dripping chill. And as John continued on with another of his favorite repeating memories, it was then that I remembered something that had happened to me earlier that same day. And as I remembered I was once again awestruck by the memory itself. Bit by bit I could remember the very details of my memory from early that same morning. Once I realized that I could remember every detail, at a break in John’s speech I turned to him and said, “John, I’d like to tell you something. I’d like to tell you something that’s very important John. It’s very important that you listen very closely because I’m going to tell you something that I need you to listen to and I hope that you’ll be able to follow me and understand what I’m saying. Okay?” It was very common for me to say his name many times when I needed his full, undivided attention. That was his sort of cue to not worry about trying to remember something to tell me, that it was his turn to listen and follow without having to think of a comeback of any kind.
“Oh sure! please go ahead,” he said and I saw a sense of eager happiness in him perhaps brought on by being relieved of having to struggle to remember anything for a few minutes, to just listen and comprehend.
Once more I reiterated, “John this is very important so please listen to me and try to follow what I’m going to tell you. It’s very important. What I have to tell you is very, very important.” He nodded. I then paused and collected myself to try to tell him the thoughts that I’d had upon waking that morning. I found it the perfect time, place and audience to recall each detail. I want to tell you now what it was that I shared with John on that cold, wintery afternoon.
A few months earlier, for no known reason, I'd gotten into the habit of trying to acknowledge whatever were my very first conscious thoughts every day. You know, those very first thoughts before the eyes even open or the head leaves the pillow for the day? Right when first stirring to wake and realizing I’m coming back to consciousness from a night’s sleep, I’d really try to open my mind to whatever those very first thoughts were for that day. Sometimes I’d actually hear music in my head and if I had the interest and effort I’d go to the piano and try to find that music. Sometimes I’d have thoughts about the day’s details like, “Oh that’s right I’d better replace the battery in that truck today.” Just today my first conscious thoughts had to do with writing this short story about my luncheons with John and this specific story about first waking consciousness.
That day while sitting with John on that bench I remembered my first waking thoughts from that morning. Like dreams, many first waking thoughts are trivial and easily forgotten but this one in particular was not only worth writing about, but was truly life changing. The entire thought of that morning might have lasted only a minute or two, but in my memory it was still very lengthy and detailed. After that waking thought had come and gone, I sat up on the edge of the bed and collected my groggy self. While shaking my head Libby asked me, “Is something wrong?”
I replied, “What the heck was that all about? You can’t believe what just ran through my mind,” I told her.
As I explained these things to John he listened fully and occasionally nodded in affirmation. I’m going to try to share with you the details of the first conscious thought of that day in late December of 2010, as best I can remember it. Why I awakened to it that day I don’t know but it seemed to be laid out before me as some sort of explanation, maybe even a conversation. It’s the reason I’m writing this now, just to share. It was a conscious thought about consciousness itself. I hope you can follow the logic. It’s lengthy and it went exactly like this in order:
I was a ten month baby probably because I didn't want to be born. I was probably afraid to be born and so I came into life terrified, maybe the same kind of fear I have of dying. But truthfully, birth and death are just processes that we all must go through in order to know and experience consciousness. Of course many believe birth and death to be miracles and that they may be, but actually they’re really just processes that we all must go through in order to experience and know consciousness. I didn’t want to be born maybe and was not happy about it. Is that why I was a ten-month gestation baby? I came in scared, kicking and crying, but hey we all do that, right? Did I choose to be born? Was I born against my will? Was I conscious before I was born? Honestly I don’t know. I can’t lie and pretend like I know for a fact I was ever conscious before this life I know now. But will I be conscious after I die? Wow, in all honesty I can’t lie and pretend like I know for a fact I’ll be conscious after I die. Of course many have various belief systems; Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, reincarnation, atheism, to name a few and there’s nothing wrong with any of that. Whatever floats a person’s boat and makes their life complete is fine by me. But, in all honesty I’m not one of those to have ever had a near death experience that was so blatantly enlightening that I could see and know for a fact that I’ll be conscious after I die. Not even that day when I cheated death at the age of five, when I ran into the side of that speeding car on Fairview Street. Of course I too have hope that my consciousness will survive and follow me through death, but truthfully and despite my faith I can’t honestly and truthfully say that I know for a fact that it will.
And you know what? It’s the very same for us all. So this means that birth and death are just processes that we all must go through in order to experience a state of conscious existence, what we call “life”. Life is a state of conscious being. And it seems that consciousness is confined to our living state of existence. Those are the rules. Both birth and death are similar in that they each have associated with them a little fear and a little pain. So birth and death are sort of like “bookends” that demarcate a beginning and end to our consciousness. Between those bookends are the “books” and “chapters” that comprise our conscious lives. The fear and pain of birth and death that we must all pass through are just simply essential events so that we can know consciousness, so that we’ll know life.
Why is this so? I don’t honestly know. But I’m pretty darn sure it’s the same for us all. And you know what? It’s always been that way. Throughout all the spans of time, it’s been that way for each and every person who has ever lived throughout the entire universe. It may even be true for every animal that has ever lived. It may even be true for plants too. It just might be that life throughout the universe is and has always been defined by a state of conscious existence; that each life is defined by that state of consciousness that comes into being after birth and ends upon death. It’s universal that life exists under those circumstances, by definition. It seems to be a truly beautiful design. No human being could possibly design or implement such a beautiful plan. I was born into this life, just like everyone else, under those exact same pretenses and it makes me think that life itself might be a gift. It seems it might even be a gift from God.
Why did God give me this remarkable gift? Why me? Why any of us? What’s the point of all this? Why as part of His design must we all sleep daily to leave consciousness on a regular, routine basis? Why must we awaken daily too to resume our conscious experience? Why must birth and death both be so scary and painful? Why is my first conscious thought today about consciousness itself? Well it could be in part that, just as both birth and death are a little scary and painful, the gift He gave us isn’t always a bowl of cherries. For whatever reason, He gave us this gift so that we’ll come to consciously know happiness, beauty, success, love, courage, pride, respect… But it could also be that for whatever reason His gift comes to us so that we'll also consciously come to know sorrow, ugliness, failure, loneliness, fear, envy, jealousy, anger and pain. Perhaps our creator stands over us sort of with folded arms as if thinking, “I give you consciousness, I give you life so that you can know all of these things. I want you to know them all.” It could be by His design, by His choosing that every living thing must know all of these things, all of these emotions; that no matter who you are, no matter the circumstances you’re born into, know matter the path you choose, no matter the path you’ve chosen, you will come to know all of these emotions. Rich or poor, tall or short, man or woman, regardless of one’s religion, culture, nationality, race or walk in life, we were given this gift and will know in the course of our lives all these emotions, the full spectrum of them. That IS His plan. That IS His gift.
But of all the emotions, there is one that's the most important and no, it’s not love. It’s enough to admit to myself, to Him and to others that I’m truly grateful for my life, because I am. I think that’s the best I’ll ever achieve in my life. Despite the difficulties sometimes, the pain, the loneliness, the fear and sorrow in the end I’m a grateful person for this chance to be. In fact, I don’t have to wait to be grateful when I die. I can be grateful right now, and the sooner the better. I know many ungrateful people; those who feel that they’ve had it worse than anyone else, that they’re the only one who’s ever felt pain, sorrow, fear, despair, loneliness… They feel as though the world has been so unfair to them, more than anyone who’s ever lived. In their misery maybe they’re unable to see that even those emotions are part of the wonderful bag that comes with His gift. When rarely I find myself feeling lonely, I realize that I can truly be grateful that I can just even be lonely. It’s possible to be grateful for loneliness. It’s possible to be grateful for fear, confusion, pain, betrayal…basically any emotion because they’re all manifestations of consciousness. When I find that I feel lost, I realize that I should be grateful that I can be lost. I’m just grateful that I can be lonely. I’m just grateful that I can feel pain. That person who died that I loved so much, I’m just ever grateful that I had those days with them. I’m grateful I can feel heartbroken now that they’re gone. I’m grateful I can even have and feel tears of love for them. Given all the thoughts in that waking moment I felt grateful for them all. I truly was and I truly am still.
Perhaps this is the point of life itself. To realize that nothing could make our creator happier than to know that we’re genuinely outspoken to Him and to all of our gratitude for the entirety of our lives, good and bad alike. Perhaps we weren’t given life to live by strict do’s and don’ts from any sorts of scripted “holy” books written by men. But simply to awaken to the truth of this beautiful gift just as it was given to us and to honestly find and surrender our gratitude above all other emotions. I’m so grateful that I’ve awakened to these thoughts and that I can share them with you. And if I can awaken to these things on my own accord it means that, well probably anyone can.
I then turned to John and said, “All that being said John, in this moment right here, right now, as I share this with you I’m grateful most of all for a couple of distinct things. That of all the lives that have ever been lived on Earth and throughout the universe, throughout all the great spans of time, I’m truly grateful that your ‘path’ and mine have crossed, that we’ve had the opportunity to walk the same path together for a little while. And I’m also truly grateful John that we’re both of conscious mind to share these very thoughts! I think it’s very important John! I think it’s the whole point of life itself! And if I’m right, I don’t think there’s anything that we could do to make our creator any happier than to be and speak of these very things!
When I finally stopped talking I looked to the joy in John’s eye. He said immediately, “I got it! I understand it! I know what you’re saying!”
Let me now turn to YOU. Let me tell you with all truth and honesty that I am grateful. I’m grateful for many things. But in this moment right now, as I type this, as you read this, I’m grateful for two very distinct things. Of all the lives that have ever been lived on Earth and throughout the universe, of all the lives ever lived throughout all the great spans of time, I’m grateful that we were given this chance to become friends. It’s truly a wonderful and mysterious miracle in our short little lives, that we’ve come to know and respect each other as friends, that this little spark of light we know as the internet travels around the earth and carries these bits of text back and forth, that we can share our life’s experiences with laughter and genuine interest. Secondly, I’m grateful most of all in this moment right now that we’re of conscious mind to share these very things. I think it’s very important! I think it’s the whole point of life itself! And if I’m right, I don’t think there’s anything that we could do to make our creator any happier than to be grateful for our lives and to speak of these very things!
Walk always in the light of gratitude because life is the gift of consciousness throughout the universe forever.
Sincerely and respectfully your friend,
About the music: My dad was always real sick and my mom moved all us to an Appalachian farm so he could have a few years of peace before he died at the age of fifty-three. The old farm was all but dying too. It had no water, no plumbing, no sinks, no toilets... The old buildings were falling over and the barn was fetid from old moldy hay, pigeon doings and rats. Our house smelled like bats. We managed to care for a few ponies, a pig, three sheep and one mean old horse. But I tell you guys, I loved that old farm. Libby and I were married in the front yard under the great maples and my brothers and sisters played drunken bluegrass damn near til dawn on our night. I tried to capture the inspiration that finds me from memories of that old place with this music. It was written specifically for my new trio to perform live. I hope you enjoyed it, "The Old Farm".