Thursday, May 04, 2006

Intermission: Can I die with that...?

I spent most of my life considering options with the final criteron being "Can I live with that...?" Will I be able to continue my life and look in the mirror ever morning and not hate the guy looking back? And way too often, the answer was "Yea, sure. I can live with that." I'm a very forgiving guy.

For the last couple of years, tho, my bottom line has shifted to "Can I die with that...?" It's not as morbid as it sounds -- well, ya .. ok .. probably it is -- but the idea is that I feel like I need to be thinking about what it'll be like in that last month or hour or minute. If I look back over my life, will I regret making the choice I'm making? Was it something I decided because it was easy or pleasant or desirable, but ultimately wasn't the choice I'd make because it was Right?

The options are complicated by 20/20 hindsight of course and you never really know if your decisions are the right ones. But if you knew you were going to die this afternoon, would you still do what you're planning to do this morning? A lot of days with "no" as the answer means something is wrong.

Leslie thinks I work too much and she's probably right.

But I feel the clock ticking and there's so much I'm going to have to leave undone as it is. I *do* need some downtime ... no question. But if I were to die this afternoon and I took this morning off, it just wouldn't feel right.


Nancy McKeand said...

It isn't just about what we have done; you have to think about how you did it. Was it done with joy? With love? If you do whatever it is you "have to" do but you resent it or you can't enjoy it or your heart just isn't in it, what kind of a way is that to live your last morning?

Personally, I think I would rather go with joy and love as my "last" feelings, not obligation. Because we will never be able to do it all. There will always be something undone.

I can't say whether or not you work too hard; that's too much an individual thing. But I worry about how you are working. I don't sense the joy that I would like to find there.

Nathan Lowell said...

I'm with ya, Nancy.

You've touched on a good criteria and while the joy isn't obvious, what I'm working on here is figuring out how to get to that state.

My "work" -- what most people would think of as a negative space -- is really my joy and passion. I use the term "work" much in the sense of "art" -- the way a writer "has to write" and a painter "has to paint." Thinking about NOT doing "the work" -- or not being able to -- is for me the joy-less state.

What I'm doing right now is -- in a sense -- refining my own understanding of my medium and how I can best arrange my studio. It's a critical activity for me and one that encompasses the joy and passion.

It's one of those meta-cog moments where I'm stopping to think about how I'm thinking. And I'm sharing it with all of you as a way of forcing myself to be honest with myself.

Because if I say something that's NOT true, one of you is gonna call me on it! And that's what I need, so thanks in advance :D

Lesley said...

I have a pretty morbid way of looking at this too Nate and I can't help noticing that the cemeteries are full of indispensable people.

However, I understand your point of view better now that you've explained that you work is like art/writing/painting to you - mine isn't. I don't find it nearly as fulfilling and stimulating as I did a few years ago. Some of that is due to interpersonal issues, some is due to the fact of having little children and that giving me a different perspective on the priorities in my life, some is due to burnout, and some is due to a realisation that it's extremely difficult to make any real difference and lasting in a work situation.

I think of colleagues who've retired recently or moved on elsewhere and I realise that it only takes a couple of months for their contribution at work to be forgotten entirely. I think of funerals I've been to where the person's work is mentioned only in passing while it was such an enormous chunk of their life.

And I suppose I turn your question about dying round and I wonder what if it wasn't me who died this afternoon? What if it was someone I loved? Then where would I rather have been this morning, at work or playing hooky with them?

But thanks for the stimulating discussion it has made me want to get some of the passion back into my own work. Perhaps I should get out of education and do something completely different. Anyone need a novice landscape gardener?