An episode from 5/25/22: Tonight, I conclude with the last in a five-part series called Notes from the Grid.
The first essay, “Simple Awareness,” is followed by “The Uncomfortable, Unsolvable Middle” (begins at 20:30).The series concludes with “All Its Ways” (starts at 48:40)
Taken together, these last three sections ask why it is, in the world that we’ve made, it is always easier to be selfish rather than selfless, and what can we do about it?
Rather than putting forth some kind of program of political or social reform, I return to the transformative importance of those hidden moments in our private lives. As one UAW worker put it, “Every time I see an automobile going down the street, I wonder whether the person driving it realizes the kind of human sacrifice that has to go into the building of that car.”
For those of us who don’t want to leave the world altogether, this kind of simple awareness is enough, and alongside it the realization that there must be moments where we can understand that we are not deficient, and do not need what is being sold to us every hour of the day. This also brings to mind all of the unfairness and injustice (and the sense of powerlessness that many of us feel) that our everyday lives are saturated in.
In light of how difficult our work and family lives can be, and in light of how much is outside of our own control, almost the best thing we can do make ourselves open to those chance encounters where we are able to help and encourage others (or where they might be able to help us). The large social or political gestures that we are all drawn to are, in the end, probably less transformative than the quiet, nearly anonymous moments, that help us day-to-day–such as the encouragement of a teacher or friend.
Finally, I conclude that our political, religious, and cultural preferences–these ways of life that we value so much, including hallowed family traditions–are a play and a game, even as they are also our lifeblood. They are both: a game, and our lifeblood. These are the moments we live for, and they are rare; the rest is a game, but we have to play it. There does not seem to be a way out of this knot, the knot in which all of these things are bound together and dependent upon one another.
If we are willing to live in the world and not dismiss it with cynicism, or literally go off the grid, the key to our own fulfillment seems to be in seeing the eternal and the everyday as inextricably intertwined. No specific cultural or religious pose is required, except the pursuit and search and finding of meaning, the joy, the bittersweetness, the perpetual learning.