Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Children: the Antidote to Existential Crises

First post in several months.  Writing has come with difficulty recently, and I'm not entirely sure why.  The most obvious reason is that life has become busy:  busy at clinic, busy at church, busy at home.  Busy is good, but sometimes it seems hard to, well, catch your breath.

I believe the more subterranean reason is because I have been battling through what I would term a prolonged existential crisis.  This is nothing new.  These crises have occurred to me periodically throughout my life, but this one seems different, more profound, more enveloping.

What's different this time?

In the past, I've always had some focal point, some future goal, a graduation, engineering an escape from Wyoming, writing a novel that, with the perspective of time, now seems in essence to be a scream into the void, a quest for validation.  Point is, there has always been some distraction or project into which I could project my existential frustrations and anxieties.  I don't seem to have that "next big thing" any more.

By all external measures, my life is great:  great job, relative financial security, lovely wife, cute kids, a good church, a home we love in a state we love.  And yet . . .  and yet . . . I find myself unsatisfied, frustrated, yearning for more.  I don't find myself questioning the existence of God, but I find myself wondering, in spite of that faith, about ultimate meaning, my place in the vast emptiness and benign indifference of the universe.

Bono said it well:
I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I'm still running
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
You know I believe it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

(That's from a man who has worldwide fame and colossal fortune.  And now a surgically repaired back.  Coming to Denver May 21st.)

All of this could fairly be called a midlife crisis.  I am, after all, turning thirty six next month, and I've noticed a few gray whiskers recently.  Cue "Dust in the Wind."  Prescribe me a bottle of prozac.

But the truth is that I am, perhaps foolishly, still hopeful that good will come of these melancholy ruminations, that there is something powerful, overwhelming, intimate and beautiful to be found on the other side of this abyss, not just echoes reverberating into the chaos of entropy. 

For those that know me well, this is why the LOST finale struck such a powerful cord.  It conveyed, beyond words or summarization, what I've been feeling:  that this Island of Isolation and Mystery, this life, on which we are all scratching out a sorrow-laden existence, ultimately means something, means everything, in fact, and we are not alone on the journey.  We see through a glass darkly, but the best we can do is to help each other stumble towards grace and redemption, believing that someday we will cross that great divide together and find that something brilliant has been awaiting us all along.

I could, and maybe should, be writing volumes about this inner weather, as a means of processing and understanding myself.  Perhaps I should spare the blogosphere and my minuscule audience that agony.  Maybe this post is a start.

But what I want to say today is that I have found a readily available antidote for these crises:  my children.  Especially my three year old.  He lives entirely in the now, in the throes or ecstasy of whatever current emotion or appetite is coursing through his mind and body.  This can lead to tantrums and meltdowns, and also the most hilarious things that he says.

Brief example:  Justin loves loves loves swords.  Everything--sticks, brooms, pencils, rackets--is a sword.  I made the mistake of getting him a Nerf sword for his birthday, and then had to confiscate it a few days later when the rest of us got sick of being pummeled with it.  We were at a park recently when Justin saw an old man hobbling along with the use of a cane.  Justin, in his adorably uninhibited way, ran up to this elderly man, and with a tone of awe and admiration, pointed to his cane and asked, "Huh?  You got a sword, too?"

The point is, Justin is real.  Undeniably, flesh and blood, you-can't-ignore-me real.  And the fatherly love that flows from me towards him as I place a bandaid or wrestle with him or carry him from his car seat to his bed, is real.  And that realness becomes an anchor point in this  "liquid fray of consciousness."

I've been reflecting upon that, how my children, by their very being, can rescue me from this pit of existential despair.  I don't believe that it makes the pit any less valid or real, but the kids provide a counterbalance:  physical mass vs. dark matter, and I'm kept hovering between their gravitational pulls, and maybe that place is not a bad place to be.

I keep thinking of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, and how Anakin's child he sired by the woman he loved became the ultimate force in pulling him back to his innate goodness, fulfilling his destiny and saving the galaxy.  When Justin is old enough, he's going to love Star Wars.

Especially those cool light sword things.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I think I know what feeling your describing. Many times in my life, during times of reflection I've come to the conclusion, "I don't quite "get it" yet, but at least I know that there's something out there to "get." While not entirely comforting, so far that faith in some "meaning beyond the void" has sustained and prodded me onward.
And the idea of certain anchoring
truths, like your children, is familiar to me as well. For me, beauty, kindness, music, my wife, my kids and my (and this crazy world's) need for a Savior are some of the truths that provide just enough strength and stability to keep me upright and moving forward.
We are imperfect souls, like Jack Shepard's, stumbling forward, life-spilling out, doomed to die but determined that what we do and who we are MATTERS. I choose to believe that when the lights go out, all this will have mattered. Don't stop believin', baby.