“The rubber bands are heading in the right direction.” – My fortune cookie, 1/7/12
That fortune cookie message makes as much sense as some things that have occurred in my life. I suppose, in the retrospect, I am urged by popular and well-meaning spirituality to look at the events of my life as embodying some kind of meaning in the grander scheme of things. We’ve all heard “when one door closes, another opens” and “everything happens for a reason” and “it all works out for the best.”
But what if that’s not the truth. What if, when door closes, it merely closes, and you’re lucky if it hasn’t smacked you in the face or on the bee-hind while its at it. We’ve all had lengthy job interview processes which force us to jump through hoop after hoop over weeks or even months, only to end with a nice tidy rejection notice in our email. What was our meaning there? Some would say the process itself gave us more interviewing experience, or it provided more insight into ourselves and our intent in life, or we gained contact with another person who might have a good job prospect for us, or maybe it just gave us the benefit of getting us out of the house and facing the real world. Are these merely rationales?
Or what about jobs that seem to offer endless benefits and bonuses and promotions and intellectual creativity, but then end up being an unrewarding cubicle-receptacle-prison, and our boss becomes a slouching elephant gnawing on our back. Have we gained character from the experience or fortitude?
We could look back at relationships that end as providing us with some kind of essential lesson in life. Maybe we learned strength from another person, or to stand up for ourselves, or how to love, or at the very least, to pick up our dirty clothes and to do the dishes nightly. But what if that relationship, truthfully, gave us nothing but frustration and irritation (again, an opportunity to learn when to call it quits sooner?) that was just a dead end that kept us entertained and bemused while we continued on with our life?
Some of my favorite words in life often start with the letter “p,” including poignant, patience, persistence, and perseverance. We could look at each experience in our life as incorporating these words in order to find meaning and purpose. Perhaps most of us do engage in this dissection in order to grapple with the idea of existence on this planet.
At its core, my fundamental issue here is Nihilism versus New Age Metaphysical Spirituality (it all means nothing vs. every experience encompasses a lesson), and the latter often provides a safer cushion for our disappointments, despair, disillusionment and confusion. I must admit, I find myself in the corner of this New Age spirituality much more often than Nihilism. Even when I got that strange fortune cookie message, and I shared it with my brother, I immediately deconstructed the meaning – well, it’s very positive, I said, as when you shoot a rubber band it always heads in the right direction, as there is no wrong direction.
But what if life here is all a dead end, with a series of dead ends coming one after the other, and some optimistic little elfin desire within ourselves wants us to look for some deeper kind of meaning in each and every episode. When we die, and we’re all done here, and wringing our hands of this experience on the Great Other Side, will we feel that this was all a dead end? Or will we, from our lofty perspective, grasp for yet another positive popular saying that even endings are new beginnings, too.
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