On Being

“Some people walk in the rain, some people just get wet.” – Bob Marley

“To be content we need to find excitement in the ordinary.” – Axel Hoogland

“I just want to be happy.” Is something I’ve been saying to myself for a long time without realizing what that really means. What does it mean to be happy? What makes me personally happy? I thought I was pretty sure nice weather would make me happy. As such, I committed a lot of time to trying to move to a warmer climate. I didn’t end up moving, but I did eventually secure a new position in my current location. But did that really make me happy? No.

In the mean time, I had resolved to being here for a while. I became more involved in activities in my community through volunteering, working on some projects and visiting different churches in town and committing to remember more people’s names as I meet them. This acceptance of my spot in the country and general engagement in activities all lead me to a certain contentment. Not happiness like when you eat an ice cream cone or accomplish a goal, but certainly not the general animosity I feel coming from a lot of people for their general spot in life. In doing this I have also tried to stop complaining about things that are out of my control. This is something that I feel has really helped me.

Another part of my life (and I imagine others in my position) that is rather stressful often is my current position of singleness. In our society people are always exposed to couples and couple stuff. It’s all over the media. Kanye and Kim. Angela and Brad. Taylor Swift and Joe Jonas, Taylor Lautner, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal, Conor Kennedy, Harry Styles etc, etc. Pressure from parents to “make grandbabies” can also be overwhelming for many people. (Luckily I don’t have this pressure). In general though, it seems that singleness is not celebrated or embraced in our culture. It doesn’t help that many relationships are based on rather shallow attributes. “We play the same sport, let’s date.” “We drink at the same bar every night, let’s date.” “You’re hot, let’s have sex and maybe date?” These attitudes of causal relationships certainly don’t help the person who is looking for a serious relationship feel content in their singleness. It seems like everyone is having fun while you are playing 3rd wheel.

What drives us to wanting to enter into a relationship in the first place? I have been scrutinizing this desire more closely lately. Certainly there is a physical interest in the opposite sex. The physical attraction is very strong and is what starts many relationships. Youthful beauty is often fleeting. Thus are the facts of life. Many people find this out much quicker than they thought, so what keeps older couples together? Hopefully there is a deeper attraction to a person’s character.  Another benefit of having a partner is the ability to confide in someone. We all have insecurities and we hope that someone will tell us that those insecurities don’t exist. “You are still beautiful” a husband will tell his aging wife. “You are still strong” a wife might tell her aging husband.  Is it also fear? Fear of being alone? The sad facts are that most couples will eventually be split up by death. The bible mentions that a marriage in this life will not continue into eternity. I think many people choose to ignore that part of the conversation, even though it’s right in the marriage vows “Til death do you part.” But I’ll save the religious thoughts for another article.

The sacrifices made to maintain a relationship are beyond logical! They fall into the realm of love which seems to defy any bounds of measurement. A husband will attend myriad of “chick flicks”, arts and crafts shows and family reunions with annoying relatives just to keep his wife happy. A wife will attend similarly annoying events enjoyed by her husband. Why? The only answer I can come up with is love. It’s certainly a confusing feeling for someone such as myself who prefers to quantify things.

What is our real goal in life? I think for many people it is to be remembered. How long will we be remembered for after we die? A decade? A century a millennium? If we really are honest with ourselves, our lives are quite inconsequential to the grand movement of things, although they seem quite important to ourselves. How many of you know much about your own parents even? Grandparents? Great-grandparents? What is our drive for reproduction? To carry on the family name? But of what consequence is that? Like the above description, you will likely be forgotten by your great-grandchildren unless you are of some world shifting personality such as George Washington or a wonder inventor like Leonardo di Vinci, neither of whom had children of their own.

Even then those people are only a few hundred years old (300 and 500 respectively, approximately), are not really old by universal standards. The universe is on the order of 13.82 billion years old. That’s billion with a B. The sun and earth are each about 4.5-4.6 billion years old, with many years left in them! The sun is predicted to fizzle out in about 7.6 billion years. Do you think people will be remembering you at that time? I’m thinking not.

Some interesting things start happening when we consider the speed of light. While we cannot travel at the speed of light, let’s pretend we can. If you were able to move at the speed of light any distance you travel would be as instantaneous to you, as time stops at the speed of light. For an observer on earth though, the time it takes you to get somewhere depends on their reference of time. So if you wanted to go to to Alpha Centauri (the next closest star system) it’d take you an instant (at the speed of light) but would appear to take about 4.37 years to an observer on earth. If you immediately turned around (after being there for an instant), you’d take another 4.37 years to get back (to the person on earth) while only another instant to you. So you’d have moved a total of 8.74 years in earth time but only 3 seconds of your own time, assuming no time to accelerate and decelerate. This is ignoring the issues with traveling at the speed of light, of which there are many. This opportunity to travel forward in time is very interesting. I am not yet aware of a way to travel back in time though.

Again, how does this relate to what is important to our lives? It hopefully helps us think about what challenges we are presenting ourselves with. Challenges are good. They certainly keep us occupied. The challenge of any competition can drive people to incredible feats. Likewise the challenges of travel or learning inspire us to reach new heights of knowledge. Sometimes challenges are useless though.

We can set just about any challenge for ourselves. We can aspire to be the best athlete, farmer, artist or chess player. Of what purpose is each challenge though? While it is nice to be a champion, we each eventually are displaced, no matter how good we are and that is a tough blow to most egos. To focus on the journey seems a better use of time. In our celebrity obsessed culture, we are not interested in the journey, only the results, no matter how long it took the person to reach the heights and how short their rein is.

What is my point in all this? Simply that we should enjoy the journey. We should focus on being present and enjoying the beauty around us for while it is fleeting it’s all we really have, unless there is something that comes after the end of time and our brief stay in it, which I am still contemplating and will share some thoughts on that at a later date.