That Late Night Perspective

Posted: November 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

This tree, visible from my window, had been daring me to photograph it for days...

I am occasionally reminded that I truly am my father’s son.

My dad was a complex amalgam of a lot of influences and a lot of labels. We acquire these things as we go through life. Sometimes they define us. Sometimes we let them limit us. Stick a pin in that idea, because we’ll be back to it.

My dad was, among all else, a philosopher. It was what he got his undergraduate degree in. He was, more specifically, an existentialist with a strong interest in Sartre. I can feel your eyes glazing over, but don’t worry. This is a means to an end. This is just a way to discuss perspective.

In a nutshell (and a grossly oversimplified one at that) existentialism says that the individual is solely responsible for giving their life meaning. It is largely about freedom, and being able to find your own truth to live your life passionately and sincerely. I fully expect a philosophical beat-down over that definition, so I encourage you to go to your library (i.e. Wikipedia) to learn more at your leisure.

So here we are. The responsibility of the individual to figure their own shit out. Why is that important? Take something as simple as a tree growing in a park. Two people, standing side by side looking at the tree will not see it in the same way. In essence, they are looking at two different trees. This is because of perspective–both external and internal.

The external one is the easiest to explain. From even a slightly different angle, the light, the shadow, the line of sight, will vary from person to person. Both will see it as a tree, of course. This isn’t a magic show we’re doing here. But this is about more than a tree. This is about your life, so let’s look deeper.

There we find the internal perspective. This is where we go back to that pin we placed earlier. An old man may see the tree as something that grew from a sapling he planted, while a father in his middle years might see it as something he’ll have to rake up after come fall, and a child will see it as a thing to climb. Same tree, but at the same time, very different. I have a very different reaction seeing a maple tree blaze red in the autumn (as evidenced by my photo up top) because we didn’t have those where I grew up. To me, they remind me of my new life here in Seattle, while someone who grew up in Vermont might think of home in the same way an Aspen tree makes me think of home.

Now it isn’t a tree we’re looking at any more. It’s our entire life. It’s the meaning to our entire life. No one has the same perspective on it as you do. So why should you let them define it?

So why is any of this important? Two thoughts, and both a matter of perspective.

One is a lesson. We are bombarded by news constantly in this culture. A good friend who’s opinion I value, had a different perspective on the recent incident at UC Davis. While we were both angered at what happened, we were of two minds on the matter of the responsibilities of the witnesses. Neither of us was Right in an empirical sense of the word. Neither were we Wrong. Because Right and Wrong are ultimately labels, human constructs, moral judgments built on a shifting terrain. (As an aside, being ten and having an argument with your father about Good and Evil and being told that the words don’t actually mean anything will ultimately fuck a kid up in the long run. Case in point.)

What is right is a matter of perspective, filtered through our upbringing and our own life experiences. The take away from this is that it’s real goddamned easy to take the stance of “I’m right and you’re an idiot” without considering that the other person might have a very good reason for disagreeing with you that you never considered because, at the end of the day, he isn’t you. So try and avoid a dogmatic stand if you can. Be open to being wrong, and listening to other people rather than drawing a line in the sand.

Secondly, it’s late where I am. I’m tired. It’s raining heavily, with big fat drops spattering against the window less than three feet from me. And it makes me introspective.

I recognize that who I am, where I am in my life, and what that all means is entirely a matter of perspective. Some people think I really have my shit together, and I don’t know where they get that impression from. Some might think I have a lonely, hermit lifestyle, while others might think I’m a carefree social butterfly. By some people’s standards I’m a failure in a lot of areas, but on some metrics, that’s the exact opposite.

Here is what I know. I am solely responsible for giving my life meaning. For me, at least right now, that means writing, publishing, and helping the people close to me realize their own life’s meaning. It isn’t all there is to life, and I know that, but for right now it makes me happy. I just need to remind myself of that. When I am in the Now, I am at peace.

And that’s a great place to be…

…whether you believe in existentialism or not.

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Comments
  1. Berit says:

    So true, so true!

    We see events and the people around us differently, sometimes differing even from day to day.

    And we have to give our own lives meaning, in the way that seems most meaningful. We can’t all be doing the same things to give us meaning, as we are all different to some extent.

    Your father sounds like a fascinating man, and I bet you two are/were very much alike. 🙂

    I’m glad you are creating a meaningful life for yourself. That positivity spreads to those you meet. Those who wish they had a more meaningful life, but can’t or don’t do it, are often miserable, no matter what paycheck they get.

    Good luck with the rest of NaNo!

  2. torreybird says:

    Deeply moving. Thank you for writing and sharing.

  3. jroseguthrie says:

    I think what glares at me most after reading this post is that though it might be hard at times for you to assume a balanced perspective on your life, where it’s at, going, etc — even through that — you always accept your friends exactly where they are in their lives. We all have a hard time accepting and just being content with our own place in life, but you’ve got the enviable quality of allowing others to be who they are, exactly who they are at that moment in time, exactly where their life may be right then.

    That’s probably why you’ve stuck by unwaveringly as I moan, complain, and wax anxiously about where my own is going. I will forever appreciate this, and hopefully, slowly but surely, learn a little from it too.

    🙂

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