I used to be a nearly impenetrable rock. A stoic, storm proof container with no visible emotions. It wasn’t an act. It was who I was and how I approached all of life. I never really got hurt. But I also didn’t feel those elevated emotions that launch the spirit and bring true joy. There were almost no tears. But there wasn’t a whole lot of bliss either. I see now that it was a safety mechanism. I haven’t figured out yet why I cultivated it or from what it was protecting me. Maybe someday that’ll come out in therapy. Or hypnosis. I’m not sure I care anymore.
When my wife died though, that stone was fractured. Permanently. In the hours before she died, my mother in law told me to go back to bed and get some rest, that she would sit with her. I could tell she wanted a little time alone with her daughter. I was almost afraid to walk out of the room, but Mary assured me she would let me know if anything changed.
I know now why mourners wail. When I laid down in those predawn hours, I curled up into a fetal position. The sobs felt like bubbles in the center of my body. I tried to hold it all in. I didn’t want to wake the kids. But I literally felt like I was being lifted from the bed with each expanding bubble and violently thrown back down as it burst forth from my chest. I wanted to wail. I wanted to let it go with all the force bottled up inside of me. But I had the kids to think about. And my mother in law. I think I would probably even have awakened the neighbors. So I held most of it in. But my shell was broken. Forever.
As I write these words, eight and half years later, little tears form at the corners of my eyes. The memory of that morning is still very powerful. But it’s no longer too much to bear. The relationships that have come after have filled some of the cracks. But like the Japanese kintsukuroi, the repairs are of a precious nature. Even though the women have moved on with their lives without me, they each left something of value to me.
The relationships I have with my children are different now too. For a while I didn’t quite know how to be their father. Single parenthood is a challenge under the best of conditions. Trying to do that job for three teens and a preteen, with a broken heart and very little outside support, still seems like a monumental undertaking. They don’t say anything about my failures but I know. I was only able to do it because they stepped up and became adults. Long before they should have had to. More priceless repairs to the cracks in my soul.
This is life. All the pain. All the tragedy. All the brokenness. But there’s so much more. People step in and fill the little cracks with joy and tenderness. Some give you the gift of love. Even if only temporarily. One of them gave me the gift of writing. Another gave me the gift of just quietly being there with a space for me to heal. My kids waited for me to come back to them. Because even the glue that one uses to repair oneself needs time to set if the pieces are to stay together.
A personal take on sustainability and western civilization
I am different. I accept this. In a world of excess, I mostly just want to get rid of everything I own and live like a Buddhist monk. And I’ve pretty much always been like this. But I knew early on that it wasn’t the same for most of the people around me. Most of them see the world as a competitive place where they are either a winner or a loser. In their eyes, I’ve always been a loser. Or, at the very least, someone they can just step right over on their way to the top.
My wife was of a very similar nature to myself. She pursued a career in mental health. Helping others is where she found her place. She had no need to prove herself against any sort of competition. And she lived a life, both at work and at home, that was true to her inner being. Deep down, I think she left this plane so early because she had no work left to do here. But that’s my spiritual nature speaking and it’s a subject for another time.
I, on the other hand, took a job with a huge multinational company. The competitive culture was fierce. I never felt comfortable. I eventually came to work in information technology and I did quite well in that role. There are still people all over North America working in that organization that know my name for some of the unique systems I put together. But I really didn’t fit in. The company made a product I never believed in. And the idea of extracting resources from nature to manufacture an unnecessary product never sat well with me. But everyone needs to make a living, right? So that’s what I did.
After my wife died, the dissonance between who I am and the culture of the place I worked became progressively more difficult for me to ignore. I struggled more and more with my place in the world. I met and had relationships with a couple of different women. Both of them had strong competitive streaks and eventually that dichotomy (obviously, in addition to other incompatibilities) doomed both of the relationships. Deep down though, I think that it was least partly because, to competitive people, I look just plain lazy. And maybe I am. But to the competitive person, laziness is a weakness of character. When someone looks at you with that sort of disdain, the relationship isn’t going to last.
Here’s the thing though, lazy people aren’t out there destroying rain forests to create empires. We take what we need from the earth and leave the rest. The hyperactive, go-getter personality without a productive, necessary, world enhancing pursuit becomes a destructive competitor. The kind of competition that extracts resources from the world to create unnecessary products. And we have literally millions of unnecessary products. Our homes, storage units and landfills are bursting at the seams with them. Maybe we need a little more laziness in this world.
Western culture has demonized contentment as a negative. Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Bigger, better, faster, etc. And it’s all true. But, not all growth is good growth. Cancer is uncontrolled growth and it can kill you. The world is now in a place where all growth needs to be examined for both its positive and its negative aspects. Personal growth is no different. It’s why CEOs of huge companies step down citing stress and their work-life imbalance as reasons for leaving. They should be fixing the culture of their organizations, not leaving. Or maybe, they should be rethinking the value of the existence of their organization at all. That’s the kind of leadership we’re going to need in the future.
Minimalism may well be the evolution of consciousness we need right now. In a time of global climate change, everything needs to be rethought. If the current status quo continues we will leave a scorched earth behind. Nothing will be left. And, deep down, we all know this.
On the other hand, there’s no going back. Yes, most indigenous cultures practiced a type of minimalism out of necessity, but not many of us would be willing to live life on those terms again. Western civilization has brought us fantastic wonders that make our lives easier, better and longer. To pretend that life was better “way back when” is a lie we shouldn’t be listening to. We all benefit from a world made better by civilization. But it’s long past time to examine the balance a little closer. We need nature a whole lot more than nature needs us.
Seven billion people on this planet. That means there are over seven billion stories. And that’s if every single one of us told only one of the hundreds of stories we have inside of us.
Human beings are storytellers. We have been doing this since the dawn of time. Stories of adventure. Stories of heroism. Stories of love, loss and our deepest angst. We all have a unique story to tell. And my story may be the story that gives you an unexpected insight into your life. And vice versa.
We evolve because we share our stories. We change, who we are and who we become. We imagine ourselves into our future existence. The ability to share our stories, to imagine new stories, to craft new possibilities, gives us unlimited power. Nothing is beyond the human imagination. Because we get to create the story. In real time. And when we combine our stories? Nothing can stop us.