Yesterday I had dinner with an old friend. We’d both been having interesting — challenging — weeks, really high highs and really low lows, including the sudden death of an acquaintance from college.
Life seems so absurd at times when it’s this kind of bizarre mix of extremes, inhumane in its randomness.
We ascribe rationality and meaning to events, but most times, it’s completely meaningless. Things just happen, sometimes for a reason, and often for no reason at all.
Good things happen to good people.
Good things happen to bad people.
Bad things happen to good people.
Bad things happen to bad people.
And yet, it’s not entirely random; sometimes there’s a pattern. But more often, there isn’t.
It’s the universe’ selective application of pattern that is so hard to understand, and that creates the cognitive dissonance that challenges good people to grow.
Our minds seek pattern — it is an evolutionary adaption that frees up calories and brain space for higher order thinking, like language and all the things that result from it.
The patterns, these forms, give our world structure. We need form, and we rely on pattern. We are comforted and enabled by patterns; we ‘get’ this.
And then — I find especially as we reach the age where people we looked up to start to age, or die, or people who are our peers disappear from our lives — we get to a point where the patterns we relied on suddenly seem like cruel lies.
I was just a few minutes ago daydreaming about the time I went on a trip to the Galapagos Islands, as part of a summer biology class I took before my sophomore year of college.
We were some college students, some professors, and some alumni of all different ages, interests, backgrounds.
We visited each of the islands aboard two small yachts, afloat in the middle of the ocean at the earth’s equator where you see the constellations of both the northern and southern hemispheres. The stars were so thick that you couldn’t pick out the big dipper.
One afternoon, we were relaxing and swimming near our boat, which was still for the day. Some people were diving off the third-story sun deck of the yacht, a good 30 or more feet up from the water’s surface.
I’m not a strong swimmer, and I’m actually irrationally afraid of the water, especially the ocean.
I had refused the dive all day, but the social pressure was getting to an embarrassing point. The group around me couldn’t feel the phobia that gripped me inside; it probably seemed like I was just being shy.
I climbed my way up to the highest point on the yacht, and stared down at the water far below. I could feel an asthmatic tightening of my ribcage, an aversion from deep inside my intestines.
No no no NO NO NO… YES!
And in that moment where I traded analysis for recklessness, I threw myself over the edge.
This is letting go of the pattern. An instantaneous swap of ‘red’ for ‘green.’ Change didn’t require a gradual strengthening, though it can sometimes work that way too. For me then, it was just a moment, a choice not just to accept gravity, but actually *propel* myself in the direction I was being pulled in — leaping, not falling.
And then later, it will be a swap of ‘green’ for ‘red’ — change, the most magical and painful of life’s realities, is both continuous and instantaneous.