When I was in college, I was an English major, philosophy minor. First of all, I know, way to make a splash in the job market, right? My business major friends thought this course of study was amusing, too.
Secondly, yes, I realize academia isn't the best way to start a post on a blog that you all have come to view as, um, not super academic.
I promise, it won't be. But having cast aside my course books year ago - Aristotle and Plato, Kant and Hegel - I've been straining to remember their most compelling theories. Aristotle was all about being moderate, right? Kant was into theoretical maxims (which, full diclosure, I had to look up right now because I'd forgotten, and immediately got anxious trying to wrap my head about the Wikipedia synopsis of his work).
Then there is Nietzche, his quest to overcome life's meaninglessness; his concept of an "Ubermensch," or superman. None of which I'll ever forget because I studided Nietzsche for an entire semester during a solemn class focused fully on his work. Our exam took place in our professor's office, lit solely by dim desk lamp, and consisted of him asking us each questions about Nietzche's philosophy while our classmates waited, worried, in the hallway. And worried was the correct way to feel, because when your life consists of taking three hour long naps whenever you feel like it and occasionally dancing on the bar at this place Beckett's we went to every Thursday night, and this guy is expecting you to chat casually about nihilism and get graded on that, well then, yeah, that's an intimidating situation.
The reason I'm telling (possibly boring) you with these details of my college days, is that I've been thinking about life lately in ways that I can only define as philosophical. Believe me, I realize this is amusing coming from someone who spoke out loud to herself in the car this morning about the need to attain a properly fitting bra, for the love of god, you are 40-years-old. But "philosophical" is the only way I can explain it.
Some of this is most certainly because of age. People say you start caring more about the right things as you get older, and I'd like to add my solid agreement to that oft-spoken refrain.
Some of it is because of recent life events, most notably my father dying, and my slowly but surely emerging from consistent moments of real grief, to consitent moments of real content, happy memories being untangled from unhappy feelings, and the ability to imagine, or feel (I don't really know which) his presence in a way that is useful. For instance, when I drove through a freak Connecticut storm which apparently resulted in TWO tornados the other day, and asked my dad WHAT THE HELL WAS HAPPENING while I drove, white-knuckled, down the Merritt Parkway. It wasn't so much that I was envisioning his spirit intervening. More that I was relievd to share my exclamations of utter fear with someone I knew so well during an experience that, otherwise, I would have had to stumble through all alone. This is the kind of funny-now-that-it's-over, near-death-but-not-really-experience he would have enjoyed hearing about when he was alive. Except for the part where he would have inevitably become very anxious about my almost driving straight through a tornado.
This welcome change isn't because of anything I did right or wrong; just time, I think, and good company.
Some of my recent pensiveness is because I've watched friends go through incredibly difficult things. And on a much less personal note, it's because I've watched people I don't know go through incredily difficult things on the national news. I think that asking yourself why life delivers such tragedy, the correct responses are 1) to fix the fixable problems to the best of your ability and 2) to live your life with integrity.
Integrity is what I'm really talking about here. Doing the little and big things right. It's not what one typically thinks about when yelling, carefree and fearless, about the brevity and meaning, of this dazzling, sweet life: "You only live once!!! I'm going to do go home and get all my chores done with so much goddamn integrity."
And yet, due to all the reasons listed above, and perhaps most of all, due to our newfound feeling of finally settling here in Connecticut - making our home comfortable, getting our routines organized and planning for the future responsibly, and for fun - integrity seems like the most important quality to achieve, throughout every hour of the day.
I've always been able to imagine living a contemplative, purposeful life. Back in the days I was part of a young, captive audience in my Modern Philosophy class at B.U., where our charming, excitable professor with his white, unruly hair would - I swear - get so pumped about Kant that he'd hop up and click his heels together in middair, for instance.
And I'm not saying I've been a moral washout, or that I haven't completed tasks carefully in my time. What I'm saying, instead, is that recently, and for the first time ever, I've been better able to give equal weight to the many responsibilities so many of us struggle with on a daily basis; to see all the parts of my complicated schedule - constantly changing gears between parenthood and writing and ensuring the dog doesn't see that chipmunk across the street from our house and throw herself in front of a moving vehicle - as the necessary, interlocking pieces that yield success in the passing weeks.
While many of these tasks are annoying (going to the DMV to get a sticker on my license to prove I moved to a new town so I can register my children at their new school, despite the fact that I will also be bringing proof of home purchase and several utility bills, comes to mind) I feel much more patience to do them. Register for school to leave time for other important work. Carefully plan the kids' schedule for when I'm out of town later this week so that I can attend a long-awaited reunion with best friends from childhood. Get the passenger-side mirror fixed on the car, because it keeps falling off and hanging by a wire, and while I feel no real urgency regarding this issue, J says it's going to snap off completely someday and hit another car, and we'll get sued.
Put a load of school clothes in the laundry in so that we can sit, as we did Sunday night, on the front step, watching neighbors go by, eating cherries and some truly awful concoction that Gabriel had made from Hershey's kisses and Lemonheads. Nora asked how I knew everybody and I explained that I didn't; saying hi to the passing walkers and cyclists was simply a nice thing to do.
I spent a lot of time as a new parent worrying about when I'd have time to do the most important things (a topic I've written and talked about dozens, probably hundreds of times before, so thank you for still being my friend). I got so caught up in it. I've often lamented the fact that Nora was such an easy baby, I could have written a book or lauched a company during my maternity leave with her. But I didn't do that because I was so worried about the fact that she didn't like to nap in her crib, and how would she ever nap at daycare? And one million other nagging concerns about my identity and career plan now that this baby was so dependent on me.
Now, only now, because of time and experiences and all the other lessons tied up in the works of great philosophical minds and classic rock and roll lyrics, do I see that that time was spent in the only way I could possibly spend it. Worrying with new friends who'd become lifelong friends; spinning anxieties I'd someday write about, and continue to write about, again and again, possibly too much. I know. I'm sorry.
Before I go off the deep end and have to actually email some of my old professors to talk this through, which would surprise and probably not delight them, I'll, instead, share a moment I witnessed on the drive home from drop-offs this morning: two moms with strollers in their exercise gear, walking quickly, lost in conversation. I saw them and thought about it again. Integrity. Then I heard the thunk of the passenger-side mirror coming unhinged again.
I came home and, before sitting down to my computer, walked to our newly-designated junk drawer, retrieved the super glue, went back outside and cemented the mirror to its base, carefully counting to sixty seconds to ensure it held.
Now listen, J, and probably lots of other people who are judging me, I realize that this isn't the correct way to fix a car. Yet in that moment I felt an intense pull to get something done. In order to get the more important things done. And in order to drive confidently down the streets of our new neighborbood with less fear that I'm going to hit other cars or pedestrians with minivan parts. Saving energy wasted on that small concern for waving hi to strangers. Summoning spirits during thunderstorms. You only live once.