19 August 2013. My mother would have turned 63 today.
My mother died of cancer fourteen years ago. I make up a new ritual for my mother’s birthday every year. Last year I ran something like 4-6 miles in 100+ degree heat in the San Gabriel mountains. The year before that I don’t remember. Five years ago I used this date to break up with a guy I’d dated for four and a half years.
Today I’m sitting on my friend Andrew’s couch in San Francisco, waiting for my friend Jessie to get out of surgery for a “category 5” shoulder dislocation she suffered from a bicycle accident. It’s a fairly major procedure and Jessie will be on very strong drugs for at least a few days. She’s also probably my closest friend, and so I flew in to SF this morning to spend the next four days with her.
Thirty minutes ago, when I called the hospital, they’d just begun cutting.
Word has spread that I’m Jessie’s point of contact for the procedure and so her friends are checking with me. I have vague ideas of messages I’ll need to send, etc once she’s done. Her/our friends are naturally worried, and this is also my problem now.
I’m supposed to be working, but I’m not. Instead I just re-read DFW’s “This Is Water” commencement speech, and the new one about kindness that George Saunders gave.
Every time I read the Water speech, I get something completely different out of it. Today, the following paragraph stood out:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles – is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.
In that the-universe-is-connected way it related back to something I’d been thinking about for the past week. The Italian-Buddhist-Let’s Change America CEO of my firm has been sending out a lot of articles about greater meaning, and giving to the community. He’s been holding weekly Q/A’s that tend to frequently come to these topics. Some people seem to be really into it and some feel alienated. I was kind of in the middle, veering slightly toward the alienated side, because I didn’t agree with many of his opinions. But then it occurred to me that the different flavors of our beliefs are not the important thing here – what’s remarkable is the CEO’s core belief that we should be having these conversations at all.
It’s almost as though he is offering up the company as a place of worship to the staff, in the DFW sense. We even have weekly sermons, although like a true parishioner I don’t go all that often.
But DFW’s argument that having a communal place of worship is a very valuable thing does resonate with me. My company is probably not the right church for me – I’d like a bit more diversity in the congregation, for starters. But I do appreciate my CEO providing this option. And maybe, once all my travels end and I’m back in LA, I’ll try to hit up a house of worship or zen center or something and have some life discussions with strangers.
For now, waiting next to the phone for the hospital to call is keeping me busy enough.