vacation from non-existence
Thursday, April 7 2005
This morning Gretchen and I were having another of our several varieties of existential conversations, this one the one about whether or not a person should be so arrogant as to bring another person into the world. Her attitude is, as I've said before, that since no one can ask to be born, and since life is so full of suffering, anyone who begets a life is uniquely to blame for that person's misery, at least the misery of childhood. This whole conversation grew out of her experience of being stuck behind a schoolbus as it disgorged children at the end of an afternoon. She'd seen the children, "bedraggled" and "downtrodden," hauling their massive overstuffed backpacks across muddy yards towards their dreary houses and she'd thought, "that's just another reason not to have kids."
That's a compelling image, but I thought Gretchen's assignment of blame for childhood misery to be a bit oversimplistic. More goes into the having of a child than simply a conscious decision on the part of one or two people. We receive a lot of pressure from society as a whole as well as pressure from within our own bodies, a pressure that in some people is not completely dissimilar from the kind a heroin addict feels when he needs more smack. So, I argued, "nature" or (if you prefer) "God" should get some of the blame too.
Furthermore, though my middle school years hadn't been the most pleasant phase of my existence, it wasn't completely miserable either. This is because life is what you make of it, and I figured out ways to retreat from my various sources of pain. I compared life to something I knew Gretchen would understand: travel. We're not continuously happy or entertained when we travel, no how much the experience is costing us. Travel has its ups and downs just like life, and it's our job to make the most of whatever it turns out to be. Life, then, is like a vacation from non-existence and should be cherished in a similar way. And it's not like you have to stick around if you really can't stand it any more.
On this particular day of my vacation from non-existence I spent my time extending the driveway ditch up the walkway towards the house. As usual, I'd expected to encounter soil there but found solid bedrock instead. By evening (on Gretchen's suggestion) I'd decided I needed to rent the jackhammer for another day.
Our friend Katie came over and we had a noodle dinner out on the south deck, our first outdoor meal of the season. Later we all went upstairs to watch an unusually touching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the episode where our straight guy is reunited with his father after not having seen him for twenty years.
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