I believe I've felt disinterested in ordinary life my whole life. I've always been something of a closet rebel. Day by day participating in the ordinary, but deep inside always looking for an out.
You couple that with the latest trend in my life: travel, and then double it with a book I just read "Veronika Decides to Die" (a poignant book all about life and suicide) – you add, multiply, compile it all together, and you start to get something interesting.
At least you start to get introspection.
I've always had a sort of semi-morbid fear of travel. What I mean is this: I'm putting myself at risk here – trusting my life in the hands of an airplane or a car – and so "this could be it" – and so "am I ready to die?"
Each time I go on vacation I get all my affairs in order first: go to confession and dump out all the skeletons from my closets, make sure I've left behind some trace of myself that will be meaningful to others. I begin my vacation full of introspection: if these were my final days, how would I spend them? What would I think? What would I write? How would I interact with others?
But now, my life has taken the travel spin. With the death of my grandfather a month ago, a business trip to the East Coast, the death of my grandmother this past weekend and a flight to southern Oregon, and finally a trip to Texas planned for the end of the month… Well, it turns out that I'm doing my fair share of morbidity-induced introspection these days.
Then last week on my flight to Philadelphia, I brought with me a book I've been intending to read for several years: Paul Coehlo's "Veronika Decides to Die." It is a beautifully written story about mental illness, suicide, and the struggle for survival. Veronika starts out attempting to kill herself, failing, and waking up in a mental hospital. The story is all about her adventures at the mental hospital, but more particularly about her discovering how much she loves life, and wants to live. In fact it is the story about numerous mentally ill people discovering how much they love life and wanting to live. In fact, it is the story of mental illness in general – and what sets apart the mentally ill from everyone else.
It is a beautiful story, and masterfully written. It is the sort of story that underscores my ordinary thought processes: namely, that I am here to LIVE. That going through life simply meeting regular obligations, simply doing the routine – is not at all what it is about. What is it about? Yes, that is always the question.
Last week when my grandmother died, I was faced with the question: whether or not to spend a hunk of money in order to spend time with my family and attend the funeral. I could either drive down, spend a day driving, a day there, and a day driving back (since I only get three days off for bereavement, and the funeral was on a Wednesday) or I could fly down the same day as the funeral, have the rest of the week there with my family – extended into the weekend – and fly back late Saturday or early Sunday.
Well, after struggling with it all evening: in the morning it came to me like a blinding light: you have to do what is important (sometimes even at great expense) – spend time with your loved ones. So, I bit the bullet and arranged the trip. I knew I made the right decision when I called my mother and told her. I could hear the relief in her voice.
So, here I am… undergoing my moments of ordinary life… but I ask: is it really so ordinary? I have relatives all over the map. They all have interesting stories and interesting lives. Some of them I've not seen in years and years – many of them I don't even remember.
I'm doing the same thing again at the end of the month: going to Texas to a semi-family reunion.
I have all these relatives – cousins and aunts and uncles. We've gone our separate ways and lived our lives. But when I see them again, in spite of the chasm between us – a multitude of differences – there is something about family, and the way family accepts one another, that is truly meaningful in all of the multitude of life's many facets.
You have to just LIVE. And living takes sometimes-extraordinary risk. You have to go out there and be yourself, and enjoy life and love others. You have to share your love with others, because as we all know, everyone these days is in great need of a little love and attention.