Monday, August 11, 2014

Cause and Effect?

Gabe-birthday-part.jpg
"Gabe-birthday-part" by Twice25 - Ghearing family.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
This Saturday, my parents were fixin' to go to a birthday party for one of my dad's maternal aunts. I knew the dear lady was "up there" in age, but didn't know the number, so when my mom told me it was 97 I was suitably impressed. Another thing I didn't know is that my great aunt had some troubles with her heart and that she's suffering from depression and thinking a lot about death. (That I've inherited the depression gene from my dad's side of the family, and have thought about death pretty much daily since I was maybe 5 years old, I didn't bother mentioning. I mean, what's the point in upsetting my mom when there's nothing she can do to help me?)

Anyway, my mom noted that my great aunt's lucky in having so many children who love and look after her, who check in with her regularly, so that she's not going gentle into that good night all by her lonesome. (I'm embellishing a little; I don't believe my mom's familiar with the poetry of Dylan Thomas). She anticipated that the party would be just annoying enough to cheer my great aunt, what with folks asking her the secret to her longevity. In a rare moment of like-mindedness, my mom and I agreed that there's very little cause and effect with regard to these matters. You can eat healthfully, exercise, and never miss a doctor's appointment or medical test and die young. You can eat crap, do all sorts of drugs, and live long (and prosper!).

From there, our conversation turned to the old controversy of nature v. nurture. Somewhat shockingly, we again agreed that it makes more sense to think about things in terms of an individual's disposition and willingness to unlearn bad stuff/press on with good stuff. Again, there's no guarantee that a person raised in a "good" environment will turn out to be "good," and that a "bad" environment insures a "bad" person. We understood that there's no formula for human perfection. Living's an art, not a science. We all make choices, it's just that sometimes we need help with choosing to do "good" (and sometimes, some need a little more help than others).

Finally (and I think I may have seen pigs flying by that point), we concurred that people seek 1) the easiest of answers to the profoundest mysteries of life, 2) rough and ready labels for one another, and 3) pithy sayings to summarize the human experience. One that I find particularly loathsome is the ubiquitous, "Everything happens for a reason." It comforts some to think this, perhaps because it assures them that, though they've no control over devastating external events, some benign hand guides them, and even the most awful thing has some deeper meaning and purpose. Me, I'm not so sure (which, I suppose, makes me a very bad, quasi-practicing Catholic, indeed). Given some of the horrors visited upon us, I can't help think the "lessons" are overly harsh. I don't see any intrinsic value in suffering and I don't believe that it's necessary for growth and learning (in my view, positive reinforcement works better than negative). Rather, I'd simply paraphrase Keanu Reeves and say, "Everything happens." The challenge isn't to find meaning in the happenings, but to arise from the smoldering embers of destruction and create meaning, and the reality you desire, despite them.

On Sunday, I nibbled a monk-style breakfast of bread and Portuguese cheese (eaten by Portuguese monks, of course) while watching Futurama reruns. The season 7 finale lampoons documentaries of animals in the wild, with the Planet Express peeps playing the roles of the animals, so to speak. There are three segments in it; in the first, Leela and Fry, as salmon, struggle against tide and time to spawn. That done, they die, and as they float away, the Morgan-Freeman-like narrator says,
"And so the endless circle of life comes to an end; meaningless and grim. Why did they live and why did they die? No reason."
I paused mid-chew to ponder this (because I can't masticate and think simultaneously, obviously). Nearly on the heels of my philosophical discourse with my mother (an extremely rare occurrence), it struck me, hard. But I've concluded that I'm not quite there, just yet. Whether it's because I need the comfort of belief in a reason for living, or because I'm too stubborn and stupid to accept that there may not be one, I can't say for sure. No, I totally don't buy that "everything happens for a reason." But I feel that we happen for a reason (us living creatures, I mean). I guess it's the drive to discern that reason, or to make our own reason, that propels us all through to our inexorable good nights.

10 comments:

  1. My mother loathes discussing anything philosophical. She refuses to see any point in it. I, on the other hand, have a need to keep asking questions, even if I know there may not be any answers.

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    1. I don't generally engage in these sort of conversations, much less with my mother as we so often disagree on things. Violently. :-)

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  2. My mom's too deaf to have any real meaningful conversation w/o repeating yourself 50 times and then she says, 'you don't have to shout'. Ugh. lol

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    1. OMG, I have the same issue with my dad! Poor dears.

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  3. I never had those discussions with either of my parents. I'm jealous. I know, infrequent, rare, etc., but still. I really enjoyed reading this post, Mistress Mina. I agree that the "everything happens for a reason" argument/attitude/whatever is crap. Look for the higher purpose all you want, but I fail to find it in the suffering I see in my friends with terminal cancer. They are not going gently into the night but are raging, raging against the dying of the light (joining you in paraphrasing DT). And if that's the higher purpose, then suck it.

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    1. Yeah, you wouldn't be too jealous if you knew how often ANY conversation with my mom ends with me biting my tongue and leaving a room before I say something just awful. :-)

      And yeah; suck it, "higher purpose" BS.

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  4. I have issues with that "everything happens for a reason" line, too. Life just sucks sometimes, plain and simple...

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  5. I haven't reached the "Agreeing with my Mother" stage yet. When I do it will probably lead me to drink.....more. Because that shit don't happen for a reason!

    Yeah, that saying is just a whitewash isn't it. A plaster for a wound. It will all come out in the wash.

    And whilst I sit here, STILL, in the smouldering embers of destruction I shall leave you with this:
    I've known the healthiest person in the world die young and a chain smoking , pub landlady, live into her nineties. And they say the drugs don't work? Pfft! That's the shit that helps you STOP worrying about death everyday! ;)

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    1. Well, Jules, I prefer to believe that my mom was agreeing with *me*, since I was doing most of the talking in that conversation (another rarity). ;-)

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