Tempis Fugit

13 09 2014


Some say it’s a mathematical trick played on the mind. The longer you live, the smaller percentage a year of your life amounts to, so it feels like it goes by quicker. Sounds reasonable, but it doesn’t fly. A year is still a year — 365 days. 24 hours in each day.

Seems to me that what matters is the amount of life each year, each day, represents. When you’re younger, things fill you with more wonder. Each day presents itself with its own small surprises: an open door, a cold night, a light rainfall, new things learned, new people met, new places seen. As you get older, though, you find yourself lapsing into more and more routines. You stop trying to learn, perhaps, because you feel the pressure to already have all the answers. You stop taking chances and, instead, spend your time adjusting to and apologizing for your mistakes.

But time doesn’t have to fly. Let it saunter. Each day at 50 can be just as long as it was at 5. It’s just a matter of being open to life’s small surprises. It’s a matter of seeing, listening, paying attention, being awake.

It’s easy to look back and think, “My oh my, time has flown.” But maybe it hasn’t. Maybe I’m just not willing to think about it as deeply as I should. Maybe it’s actually taken its time. Perhaps time saunters after all. It’s just a matter of how deeply you’re living it.

Note on a Table

18 01 2014


Had to go to Nebraska for a couple of different reasons. Went to a coffee shop for breakfast and found a note lying on the table. This is what it said.


My Future’s Manifesto
by D. B. Wyatt


I can see it and hear it now: Computers so smart they can actually mimic spirituality, because we’ll find that that a sufficient amount of computing power actually leads to an innate exocentricity – the impulse to “go beyond” one’s capacities, and this inevitably leads to a belief in God. The replication of intelligence begets replication, which by law of finite extrapolation, always leads to a desire for more. So get smart enough and you’ll want more than you have, and need more than you are. It’s a natural urge, which means that religion would have been developed whether or not there was a God. This doesn’t disprove the existence of God, but it makes it much less likely that such a being exists.

I can see it and hear it now. Computers so smart they can out-write, out-rhyme, out-paint, and generally out-create us. Because we’ll find certain innate algorithms built into nature that are expressly designed to create, and we’ll be able to replicate (and even manipulate and perhaps even improve upon) those algorithms in computers, but given that their computing power is so much greater, they will be able to out-perform us in creative tasks. So a computer will be funnier, more charming, even more sexy, than its human counterpart.

So religion will become a relic of the past, a natural stage in the progression of human intelligence, as we find that computers themselves begin to get not only personalities, but faiths. And this will prove, convincingly to most people, the true provenance of religious belief.

We’ll also come to the conclusion that we actually aren’t moral animals, we humans, and that our instincts for goodness are actually adaptability strategies in order to get along. We’ll find that there is no right and wrong, technically speaking, and that such concepts are developed for the propagation of the species. We make this shit up in order to survive, in other words. And it usually works, except when it doesn’t. It backfires because nature backfires. Every natural cycle is incomplete. Nature isn’t perfect – if it were, it wouldn’t change. Evolution is the process of attempting to reach perfection, which would be homeostasis. Religions call it eternity.

Anyway, all these religious impulses, all this morality wrought out of guilt, all this inspiration that supposedly came from the gods – all of this will, in time, be understood for precisely what it is – mechanisms built into the process of change for the purpose of insuring the survival of the host. Morality has no actual moral content of its own. Things are what we make them to be, and we make things that reflect what we want to be.

Will this lead to chaos and a rupture in the social fabric? Hopefully not, as people begin to accept that to live is better than to die, and so we must do everything we can to insure not only our own survival, but the survival of our progeny. This instinct alone, the desire and will to survive, will be recognized as the ultimate impulse—the ultimate religious impulse, if you will—that must be protected. Living will become the God. Life will be the God. Life will be God. God will be Life. It will be reduced to that kind of simplicity. There will be no need for sufficient complexity. It will be a call for sufficient simplicity. The simpler, the better, the more elegant, the more economical, the more efficient. Nature is actually on course to becoming more simple. It’s just that the road to get there is pretty complex ~

“I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.” Blaise Pascal


24 08 2013


The question isn’t “How could this have happened?” but rather “How should we respond?” Life is filled with tragedies great and small, and though we can (and should) never get used to it, we shouldn’t finally be surprised, either, when it’s our turn to face the grim realities, the unexpected turn. Life is fragile, tenuous, fleeting. When tragedy hits, it will take our breath away, but it shouldn’t take our reason for living away. It can’t, lest death win twice. I think of the mother who lost her two sons in the rising flood waters of Sandy. As a parent myself, I can only grieve from a distance, only imagine the horror — the absolute abject horror — of trying to come to grips with that tragedy. But for the sake of her boys, if for no one else, she must live on, must see to it that, after a long and painful darkness, she forces herself to confront the light of another day.

God bless that woman and her husband, and may the sweet souls of her two boys be resting now in peace. The question most certainly cannot be “How could this have happened?” It must be, for the sake of Life, “How must I respond?” Life is fragile. We’re all just hanging on by a thread.

There are also times in life when things happen that you didn’t expect — a word gone awry, or a gesture misunderstood takes a turn you didn’t intend. At times like this, we shouldn’t to be too terribly surprised, either. Especially those moments between two people when all the tenuous strings that connect two souls are plucked at intervals that become dissonant. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing, no manual or guide. You fall back on the vagaries of wisdom and hope that for all your imperfections, you play mostly harmonies and melodies with those thrown into your path. And forgiven when you don’t.

In both big and small ways, with life’s unmitigated tragedies and unfortunate misunderstandings, we’re reminded again and again how fragile life is, how carefully we must tread through this maze of living. And this, I suspect, is why life is so precious, precisely because it’s so fragile.

We might be forgiven for assuming that, having made it this far, we’re indestructible, incomparably durable, masters of our destiny. But then that storm hits, or that letter comes, or that word is said, or that diagnosis is given, or that wrong turn is taken, and suddenly, things change in a flash. And when that happens, we shouldn’t be too terribly surprised. We may be the captains of our ships, but we are not the wind.

Such is life. Such is living. Welcome home.

Catch as Catch Can

11 02 2013


There was a lake. I was 17. There were friends, and a summer night, and stale popcorn on the cabin floor. We went outside, shed our clothes and went for a cold swim. We sang Van Morrison at the top of our lungs, fell asleep under the stars, dreamed about what our lives would be like 30 years from then. Catch as catch can, we said.

And here I am, 30 years later looking back at what’s been caught. It all seemed so haphazard while I was going through it, so unknowable from my vantage point at 17, dripping wet under the stars. But now, in looking back, a pattern, barely perceptible, emerges. All those years, so much living, so many people, so many choices, so many roads (taken and not taken), and yet under and over it all… in people’s faces, in prayers offered on my behalf, in the countless friendships that came and went, in my own failures. How could I know that my future was reaching back to me every bit as much as my past was reaching ahead?

Had I known then what the stars knew, their light a thousand years from home and finding me lying on the sand, my eyes staring up at them with nothing but questions.

Catch as catch can it all seems in the making; there is no road, we’re told. We make the way by walking. And yet, we don’t travel our journeys alone. The stars keep watch, maybe even have a story to tell. Silent, not altogether indifferent, lighting our way. Guided by the stuff we are all made of. Guided by the hand that made it all.

It all was so new at 17, I so fresh and young still, so much of life ahead of me and around a bend I could not see. But the stars could see, from their vantage point a billion miles from me. They’d traveled far, across continents of other stars, fields of dark matter, oceans of nothingness, to meet me on that lake shore that summer night in ’81.

I look up at those stars now and wonder, What do they know about my life 30 years from now? Where will I be? And with whom? This time, I know. With my aging wife, God-willing, and my two children, and maybe their children, too. And I’ll have come full circle and will be lying on that shore, dripping wet, under the stars, Van Morrison ringing in my ears, this life ebbing to a close, surrounded by love.

You catch what you can.

Cracks and Prisms

26 11 2012

Broad views of the world can never afford you the smaller angles of repose. I used to think that all my traveling and living abroad (and growing up with multiple languages in a globe-trotting family) would somehow render myself immune to small-mindedness, impervious to inertia. Not so. It was only a matter of time and habit before I found myself fully committed to the chaos of the 210 freeway or the endless loop of commercial mass media, raging against the machine of modernity in both cases, completely trapped in the little prison of my provincial mind. What I needed wasn’t a way out. It was a way in… into smaller, more localized frames of reference, which would afford me, ironically, a more generous view of the world, and smaller angles of repose. William Carlos Williams once wrote:

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

The most local is the most universal. Really to be somewhere, arrive, to show up, be present, awake or asleep. Tolstoy understood this to be the critical discipline of living: to be present to one’s life, to others, to God ~ to all of the cracks and prisms of light that shone just beneath the surface of things. Not scheming for some sought-after prize in the future, not brooding on some displaced virtue of the past. But be like a child again, fully awake and alive to what is here, and now. In doing so, we live into the future, and settle accounts with our past, in the only way we were ever intended do either: fully invested, fully alive.

The picture above is of me and my son on a friend’s yacht in the San Diego harbor, fully present to each other, fully alive, he fast asleep on my chest, I completely awake to the weight of his life on mine. No borders, no boundaries. Just space… and time. All kinds of space and time. Life as it was meant to be lived.

Small angles of repose.