Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Being alive

I laid in bed last night reading, long after my usual bedtime, because I got involved in a story (Sebastian Faulk's On Green Dolphin Street). I got the book used a few months back because I had enjoyed his books Charlotte Grey and Birdsong. Somehow, though, I laid it aside after reading a few chapters and the other day I picked it up again. This time, however, I got caught. After finishing it near midnight, I pondered the emotions it has stirred up in me. This post is my attempt at understanding, writing for edification.

What does it mean to be alive? Does it mean anything since it doesn't last? Everything that is born must die, and time travels linearly in one direction. Doesn't it? I remember my parents and my children who are gone from this earth, and they sometimes return to me in dreams. Their essence is still within me. But are they no longer valid to the world because they are dead? Are they only alive inside my mind?

Here is an excerpt from page 222 in Dolphin Street. Bear with me, because I cannot say this as well as Faulks. Mary is married with two children and is having an affair with Frank:
Frank's face looked suddenly exhausted, shot with the fatigue of his life's exertion. He paused in his dressing.

"What do you want from me, Mary?"

"I want you to prove to me..." she spoke slowly, taking his question literally, "that time doesn't matter."

"What do you mean?"

"If you say that only what lasts is worthwhile, then nothing is valuable, because everything passes. Isn't it enough that something should have existed, just once? Don't you think it continues to exist in some world where the pettiness of time is not so important?"

"I don't think I understand."

"I love you so much that I can't believe that what we feel began only when I met you and will end when I stop seeing you."

Frank nodded. "That I understand."

"Therefore the idea of a starting point or an end is in some way mistaken. Therefore, therefore... There is a world outside time, which..." She trailed away.

"Where we can be together but you can still have your other life?"

"Something like that, but not just a convenient solution. An explanation, a way of properly ordering value. An eternity that is more than just time without ending. A place where time runs a different way."
A place where time runs a different way. In our dreams, time is not linear. In my thoughts about my loved ones, my love is not linear; that is, it was not more or less at different times, it just is. The Bible tells us that love is eternal. Emily Dickinson says, "That Love is all there is / Is all we know of Love." As far as I know, I am in pretty good health, but there is no guarantee that I will be around tomorrow to write another post. In fact, all over the world people are dying right now, being born into the world right now, and pretty much experiencing the entire gamut that Life offers us. Right now is also all we have. I can think about the past and imagine the future, but right now, this instant, is really all there is, unless... unless, as Mary says, we can find a better way of "properly ordering value," or in my words, valuing the whole enchilada.

And this brings me back again to my favorite existential dilemma: am I simply the sum of my experiences and my genes? Or is there something else that my little brain cannot even fathom in its finiteness? (That's what I believe deep down, and hope that will be revealed to me when I pass over, if there's any justice in the universe.)

Yesterday at the optometrist's office I found that my eyesight may be going. Age-related macular degeneration and some missing vision fields in my right eye. I'll be heading to a neurologist for some tests one of these days, but it's not a comfortable thing to contemplate. I use these eyes every day, almost every minute, and wonder: if I go blind, will I dream in the same way as I do now?


  1. That is a very deep blog, Djan, on which at this time, my brain cannot really respond. I woke up yesterday at 4:45 am and got home at 9:00 am this morning, so more than 24 hours awake! I have a lot of reading to do. We spent 11 beautiful days in Alaska and the Yukon with incredible weather the whole time like 82 in Juneau and 84 in Ketchikan. The drive from Vancouver to Seattle was also beautiful. I would love to go back when the tulips are in full bloom. I took over 1500 pictures which I’ll have to work on, but we are going on another trip soon, to see our small grandchildren. I have been to Seattle 3 times in the last 10 years, and every time the weather was very sunny – never seen this area in the rain. Here today it is 90! and a surprise, a rose bush which my husband was going to toss out because it had been taken out by the workers when erecting the small garden shed, but I had him replant anyway, had 3 beautiful pink roses!

  2. Oh, now we're talking!
    Of course I don't have any answers, but I do love the questions your blog poses.
    I do believe this. To have lived one moment (not a measurement of time) fully is enough. The rest is cake. I hope to live to be a very old woman, but if I die tonight I will have lived fully. And that is timeless. The sad part is, will anyone else know? Well, you will because I've just told you. But what to do with that? Were to go with it?
    Let's talk more about this, I'll try and do something in my own blog. Because this is the stuff that really matters!

  3. And how self-centered of me not to ask about your eyesight. What can be done? Surgery?

    After ten years I have finally accepted my presbyopia, and am allowing my other senses to assume a greater role. But I fucking miss the excellent eyesight of my youth!

  4. Thanks for your comments on my blog. My daughter, who helped me start my blog, showed me how to write posts and post-date the publication date, so I had about 3 posts written in advance and slated to be published while I was away. I did not have a computer on my trip. I don’t know when I’ll have my pictures of Alaska ready for a post as I like to have some kind of information with each post, so I have to research the different towns. Let us know how your neurologist eye exam goes; hopefully it will be all right.

  5. DJan, I'm sorry to hear about your eyesight. Our eyes are precious and we don't want to think that we will have to do with less sight one day, but have courage. It may not be too bad and you didn't mention your left eye? which is maybe ok for now? Your post was excellent and very full of questions. When I was working in the school, we had a book for the children who had lost a brother or a sister. It had a lovely story about a dragonfly in it. The story told how the dragonfly lavae lived beneath the surface of the pond. It was just a grub and had no other life nor did it know that one day it would rise above the surface of the pond and become a beautiful dragonfly. I believe that one day we will rise above the surface of our pond and become better beings than we are now, just like the dragonfly does. We will stretch our wings and fly and forget all about the life we had before.
    Blessings, Star

  6. DJan: In reaction to the first part of this piece, I suggest you read Richard Bach's "There's No Such Place as Far Away"

    With regard to macular deneration: My mother has had it for many years. At 92 years ripe, she is still sewing, though slowly.


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