I am standing on a balcony, looking out, and, from here, I am coming at the world rear window.
I went to work today. And then I came home from work and I changed my clothes and I took my dog out and we went to the the park. And a while after I got back, I found myself out on a balcony, leaning on my forearms, braced on the railing, watching the world of nameless others unfold.
There are people moving all about their lives below me, and I can’t help but to impose my own thoughts on their going-abouts; to read meaning into what I see from a few stories above.
This all started with a guy starting up his motorcycle.
In the year that I have stood, off and on, on this balcony, I have always seen that bike parked, cover over it, in that spot just below the balcony, and the minute I heard a bike starting it up, too close to be any other but that one, I all but leapt from the couch, threw the door open and dashed outside to see it… because I wanted to see this bike (uncovered) and I wanted to see the owner… and, on some level, I wanted to watch his interaction with it.
He lets it run for a minute and he must have ridden it recently, because he’s not even giving it a once-over or anything. He hovers around and then he’s on it and riding away. But even after he’s gone, I am still caught here, now watching the sidewalk and the passers-by. And I decide things for what is not the first time.
People are walking home from work, creases now softened from where they had been (re)ironed into fabric earlier this morning – a whole day before this moment. Some look tousled. Some look okay.
Couples walk by, hand in hand. Some seem considerably happier than others. I impose this judgment on them, even when I know my assessment can never be correct.
Dog owners walk by, walking their dogs. Some are still in work clothes and some have changed. There is a whole sub-culture of people who own dogs. And within them a division in school of thought: those who change from work clothes, and those who do not.
And I remember, seeing one in particular, that there is something wretched and heartbreaking about the dog owner who pulls on a dog along on their walks, the dog – usually distracted or undisciplined or aging – trailing behind, hobbling, the leash taunt between him and his owner, who walks ahead at the other end, either oblivious or uncaring or both.
We do these sort of things. You and I do them too.
Maybe it can’t be helped. But maybe, on some level, it can be accepted.
The dogs – the ones forced to walk faster than they’d like – they always seem bewilderingly… okay with this.
Dogs are peculiar like that. Perhaps it is a testament to how deeply we – their people; arguably their whole reason for existence – are ingrained in their wiring.
My dog bit me once. It was deliberate but it was also not deliberate. Deliberate in that it was the result of him lunging directly at me with teeth, in a quick, specific movement. But also not deliberate in that the whole thing was rooted in an immediate, “animalistic” reaction for him – a split second response when I had gotten too close when he was working on a rawhide. The bite, however, is not what mattered. What was important was that, in the immediate split second that followed him biting me, he took on this… look, his ears suddenly back and flat and his eyes soft and up at me from a lowered head.
He had the body language that a dog assumes when he fears he is about to be hit. But I was never going to. I never even threatened to. I simply moved away. Because, as a dog owner, you recognize these sort of indiscretions for what they are and you know the whole picture. And you forgive them. (For what it’s worth, he now – years later – would happily allow a rawhide to be pulled from his mouth, mid-chew, and would patiently await the decision to return it to him. Not that that should be taken as a test of – or a testament to – his love. Just a fact.)
We challenge ourselves to ask questions about life and what it all means. We make decisions and we build ourselves a little lifestyle, and we call it any sort of useful labels. But ultimately, the things we use to give ourselves meaning, they all fundamentally overlap.
Victor Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. Victor Frankl also wrote a book.
And in this book – this book about man’s search for meaning – Victor Frankl asserted that a meaningful life is readily accessible to us, should we only care to curate it.
Because, as Frankl wrote in his book, when it comes down to it, the only things that really matter – and there are three – are: 1.) work; work like “a job,” sure, but also work like “something you can throw yourself into;” work like something for which you willingly work yourself over; work like something you break bones for and work like something you drag yourself home from and get up the next day and go back to and willingly do all over again… and 2.) love; love like something countless threads wide; love like something that runs a current deeper than what may matter to others; love like something both special and substantial… and 3.) perspective; perspective like the choice to take blows; perspective like the decision to decide these blows don’t leave marks or, better yet, perspective to realize that they count toward something better; perspective like the choice to make it all worthwhile in some grand pursuit of something more.
Work. The way you spend your time, whether it means something to you or not. Good work – the investment in something meaningful to you.
Love. Your support structure; someone you feel can partner with you in the pursuit of your own meaning and, perhaps more importantly*, someone you want to support in the pursuit of theirs; someone who has the knowingness of a greater you; someone who knows what to do with that. And vice versa.
Attitude. The decision you make; the way you choose to absorb things into your being; the angle at which you take a hit; the realization that doing so builds your matter.
And this is the stuff that makes us up.
Our bodies are built of brick and mortar.
Our minds, though, are somewhat built of stone.
We can absorb so much if we only try. We inscribe our own meaning in our making.
. . .
It is, for me, a “sketching” sort of night.
I don’t get these a lot – and maybe that’s a little bit odd (either the getting of them or the rarity of it) – but when I do, I get them strongly… I get a strong urge; this desire to put marks on paper and make them bleed together and come to life. And it is an urge entirely unlike the urge to write, which happens almost daily. These marks, they are not like words.
Writing, too is just marks on paper, but with words, there is always something to interpret, something to discern, something disguised.
Drawing, though, is multi-lingual. It is, in a way – in this way – a bit animalistic.
(And here is where I stopped to sketch. With a ballpoint pen, because this was all I had.)
. . . . .
Work. One of three things that gives your life meaning.
But there’s something that gives meaning to your work, too.
And yeah, part of that is the love thing. And an even bigger part of it is the attitude thing.
But there’s more to be said here, about meaningful work.
My primary craft is writing. But I know, even as I do it, that not everyone can read. And I know that not everyone who can read can read the language in which I write. And I also know that not everyone not fluent in the language has the desire to assimilate themselves or learn. And I also know that even those who can read – and can read in the language I write – have no desire to read what I’ve written. I know this.
For those who have any of those things, I work. I will put marks on paper and string them together in lines and dots and dashes along a page, and offer them up for others’ consumption. And for the chance to have even a moment of a connection with someone here, I will play translator to every line; I will toil and take blows; I will risk breaks and toe burnout.
But for those who fall into the other groups, my work cannot apply. And I know this. This group and I, we cannot see eye to eye. I cannot instill a desire if the desire is not already there.
I know I cannot impose that thing on others.
I can stand at a railing and imagine all sorts of things that suit my fancy. But when it comes to a real interaction between me and another other, I cannot really force what isn’t there; cannot fabricate a thread.
I can try, sure. I can watch the way that others move through life and I can guess on what has given them meaning – or if their lives really have meaning at all – but fundamentally, I can only go so far in this endeavor before it takes on a fairy tale quality.
The only thing I can know and manage for sure is my own world – my own work, my own love, and my own reaction to the things that happen. My own willingness to be dragged or shoved or struck for all things I deem worthwhile, and my own skin offered up for teeth that might yield meaning.
The fortunate thing, of course, is that this alone is very much so more than enough.
*No, there is no note. Not yet, anyway. For now, only a mark marking a point on a page.