on anniversaries and the moral bucket list

// Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Last week was a weird week for me, full of anniversaries and birthdays and histories. My boyfriend’s birthday was earlier in the week, which was lovely and wonderful and we spent Sunday up in Portland in celebration, wandering around in the sunshine (and finally seasonally appropriate warm weather!) and heading to Duckfat for the first time (might make a post about it soon: I know it’s not a ~new thing~ but man, it was good).

But then midweek, last week, was April 15th. On a personal note, that date is the anniversary of a personal matter that I haven’t figured out how to write about in this space yet: I probably will, eventually, but now is not that time. But it’s a day for me that has a huge spectrum of emotions, and it puts me in sort of a odd headspace. And on a much larger, much more emotionally complicated anniversary scale, April 15th is the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings. Boston is my home, in the broad sense. I’ve grown up (and spent my whole life so far) in Massachusetts, and I work in downtown Boston. And I was at work in downtown Boston two years ago – I work about a mile away from the finish line, and it’s a Day, for Boston and for Massachusetts and for the country. I’m lucky: I’ve only peripherally felt the effects, in that I know people who know people, but nothing happened to anyone in my immediate circle of family and friends. It still has impacted me, absolutely, but I’m lucky. At least, as of last Wednesday, Tsarnaev was found guilty on all counts in the Marathon Bombings. So that’s something. But regardless, April 15th is a Day.

And because of all that last week was, I’ve been out of sorts. I haven’t felt like writing, haven’t wanted to write, other than when I accidentally filled three journal pages writing about something that happened a million years ago, and even then, it was Facts versus Writing, just because I wanted to see if I could. I haven’t been writing the way I want to write, lately. I’ve been overthinking and overanalyzing, and even just on here, I’ve got a half dozen drafts in various states. None are where I want them to be: I can’t find the right words, can’t get the feeling right, can’t translate what I’m thinking in my head to words on a computer screen.

But the reason this post is coming out of drafts and into the world is this: I really want to write about the “The Moral Bucket List” by David Brooks, an excellent piece from last week’s Sunday Review section of the New York Times, which has been circling the internet some already, but I want it in this space, too. and it was exactly, precisely, what I needed to read. It’s long, but it’s worth it. If it weren’t bad form and a crappy internet thing to do, I’m pretty sure I’d just paste the entire article here. But it is bad form to do so, so as such, here are a couple parts of the article that really resonated with me:

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

and

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

and

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

There’s lots to do ahead. And so many people fit into the “stumblers” category; we’re all just figuring out what works and what doesn’t and trying to find those moments of great joy, whether collective or personal. That’s what I want to focus on. That’s what I am focusing on. Because anniversaries and the memories and histories that go with them are easy to get lost in; but the fact of the matter is that the past is something to remember, not live in. And there are wonderful things in the future, even if a lot of the future, right now, is unknown and not fixed – but that, in and of itself, almost makes it more joyful, because the possibilities are endless, even the if the unknown is and can be frightening in the best of ways. This last week might have been difficult, yes, but, as above, those pieces of time are part of something bigger, a story that is and always will be unfolding, because there’s always another page to read, to live, to experience. And that’s the important thing.

Today, I’m drinking coffee out of a mug covered in hearts, literally, and that’s about where I’m at. Here’s to forward and futures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *