Stumps are beautiful. Maybe humans, like stumps, can shine even if they are cut down. Maybe we can thrive even while life allows us the contradiction of growing and dying simultaneously. But that paradox befalls anything willing, wishing, to become, to participate in the experience of living whether prepared or unprepared.
So we come from things that are wild and untamed, and grow reason, and grow feelings, and still we are fundamentally wild and untamed.
What sound does grass make when it grows? What sound do humans make when they pass out of childhood into maturity, or realize they’re maturity has not replaced the child, but exists only because of the child. What is it to come into your own?
The thing is, leaping into it to find out is the only course to take, and it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. That is, it is easy since it is your only choice besides standing still, and it is excruciating because never again will you be able to say as Dar Williams expressed in one of her amazing songs, “The world’s not falling apart because of me.” You will be scarily powerful.
Sometimes I think being born is akin to giving a five-year-old a chainsaw, and then sending them on their way, telling them to go off and do something unique and wonderful and life-altering with it. Perhaps it’s a little less risky than that, but not much!
Networks and policies, and laws and ideas and projects that may not even exist yet will be fundamentally altered in some large or small way because of you. Relationships, children, random human and animal beings, environmental changes for good or ill, businesses, attitudes toward minorities, disability, poverty, spirituality, dreams, cats, baseball teams, and swamp coolers will change, will thrive or suffer because of you. Are you so prepared to be a survivor, a healer, a casualty of life, and the reason for, the cause of, other casualties of life?
Growth doesn’t give you time to prepare. It forces you to act and learn how to act at the same time. No wonder we are beautiful, terrible, amazing, disappointing, insecure, inconsistent, persevering, triumphant, wise and ignorant, calm while battling tempests inside ourselves, proud and sometimes shamed, and, if you’re like me, all the while trying to do these things honorably, honestly, with love.
So how do you measure if you have done well? From one perspective, it only matters that you have started to do something. Not until your life is over, can you know the impact of all you have done, and sometimes you will not even know then.
I prefer the suggestion in one of Philip Pullman’s novels. His fictional land of the dead is full of harpies who will fly at your face and tear you apart if you don’t arrive with a story. The harpies like a good story, so the better, more interesting, and original it is, the better your reception in the land of the dead will be.
I’m fairly certain there are no actual harpies awaiting us: but even so, perhaps it’s wise if we arrive with a fantastic incredible story. Then we will know we have lived well, and anyway, our friends and ancestors will be proud of us then. They tend to care more about our life stories than whether we were perfect. So maybe we should, too.