Monday, June 13, 2005

The Story of My Life

I've been reading a book of essays by C.S.Lewis and came on a remarkable bit of insight in one called, "On Stories". As with most remarkable bits of insight, once voiced, it seems ridiculously obvious. Probably my brain is a bit slower than most. I can almost feel the thick sludge ideas have to wade through, across synapses, to the relevant quadrant and particular neurons. What I take in usually makes it to the right place, it's just a long time in getting there.

In any case, what was a minor epiphany for me, or a key to unlocking a major, problematic theme in my life, was this: that life is linear and time-bound and we, therefore, can never experience the fullness of it in any one moment, but only isolated scenes within the larger plot of it.

This is important for me because, for as long as I can remember, I've had grand aspirations for my life, coinciding with relative dissatisfaction in my current position. I've imagined that if I could just learn to keep my house clean or be "Mother of the Year" or get an education or ascend to the level of spiritual guru, THEN I would be content, rich, full: like the ideal in my mind. But the problem with a dream of the future is that the picturing of it isn't the picturing of real life at all, but of a state of being. Here is how Lewis puts it:

In real life, as in a story, something must happen. That is just the trouble. We grasp at a state and find only a succession of events in which the state is never quite embodied. The grand idea of finding Atlantis which stirs us in the first chapter of the adventure story is apt to be frittered away in mere excitement when the jouney has once begun. But so, in real life, the idea of adventure fades when the day-to-day details begin to happen. Nor is this merely because actual hardship and danger shoulder it aside. ...Suppose there is no disappointment; even so- well, you are here. But now, something must happen, and after that, something else. All that happens may be delightful: but can any such series quite embody the sheer state of being which was what we wanted? ...In real life and art both, as it seems to me, we are always trying to catch in our net of successive moments something that is not successive.

This isn't to say that I can't create a measurably better or worse life for myself by tangible acts. But note this: that even if I am someday living a very good life, by all standards, I can only experience it in little snippets, moment by moment. The sadness that I feel in reaction to loss will not be fundamentally different than it is when I feel it now. And conversely, my moments of great joy will be moments very like ones I experience now.

When I think of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, I think of the whole book, the themes and characters which, together, say something true and profound. No one character or one scene, though there are brilliant ones and ones which stand quite well on their own, embodies the novel as a whole. So with life, each scene develops key aspects of my character, the significance of which will only come to light when the plot is seen as a whole. So maybe now, thanks to Lewis, I will relax a bit, sit back and enjoy the read.


laura said...

When you write the sadness that you "feel in reaction to loss will not be fundamentally different than it is when I feel it now" are you saying that joyous moments are too small in between to be noticed?
Again as I have said before, I think C.S. Lewis and Dostoyevsky are way above my IQ level. I'd love it if you could explain more of this to me.

Rachael said...

Maybe I was trying too hard to explain this. What I mean is that I am only ever present in one moment at a time. I will never arrive at a day in which I can say, "aha! I've made it! My life is everything I imagined it to be." That moment isn't possible because a moment, by definition, is only part of something larger. The ideal I have for my life is more an idea or a theme than it is a momentary action or feeling. But, again, life is only a succession of moments.

I still don't know if this is clear.
Think of each moment as a word in a poem. Some are sad words in themselves, some are happy, some frightening, others thrilling, some tantalizing. But only when all words are seen together can we grasp what the poem is trying to say- it's theme. I think what struck me when I read this essay, is that I've been expecting my life to come together to form a rich and beautiful poem (which it may, God helping, at it's end). But while I am living I'm confined to individual words, one after another, leaving a half-made sentence or thought trailing behind me.

Still not sure I'm communicating well. So I'll just answer your question directly: No, I did not mean the joyful moments are too small or somehow swallowed up by sadness. I only meant that joy and sadness alike fall to street bums and aristocrats, the upright and the wicked. Whether I'm living a miserable, wasteful life or a wonderful, productive one, I am still only ever happy or sad or angry or contented, one moment at a time.

Our romantic dreams of a "perfect life" or "true love" or having children or ascending in our career, they aren't possible because they don't reflect the reality time-constraint, of living one moment to the next; rather these dreams are of a state of being, a sort of completed state which isn't possible within space and time.

By letting go the improper, unattainable ideal, we give ourselves the freedom to make real change: change that is possible from moment to moment.

ugh. Ask me more if you don't understand.

laura said...

I do see a bit more of where you are comig from. Maybe this quote will offer you some peace of mind, or at least a chuckle. "If you got one foot in yesterday and the other foot in tomorrow, then you're pissing on today."
I agree that we have to live in what is our reality. We should strive for progress, not perfection. It's a hard thing to do from day to day when we are (at least I am) the type of person(s) that say "What if things were different?" or my personal favorite "Yeah, but still..." If ya know whatamean;)
Letting go is a great idea. No one, even the rich, famous, powerful or most beautiful people on this earth have the "ideal life", they're always going to look for something to fill that gaping hole.
Living life one day at time is (in my humble opinion) the only way to live healthfully.
Uh, sorry for all the rambling;)

Rachael said...

no apology required.
blah, blah. Everything I say is B.S. anyway. Good to have someone sensible say something now and then.

laura said...

It's all good. This is completely off the subject but I found 2 Deep Thought quotes that I thought you might enjoy:
"It takes a big man to cry, but it takes an even bigger man to laugh at that man."

"Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis."
Funny, no?;)

laura said...
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