Monday, January 3, 2011

Big Thoughts For The New Year

Hello, everyone! I’m back from weeks of traveling and visiting with family and friends and celebrating the holidays. More on that tomorrow.

Today and I want to write about yesterday. My husband and the doggies and I had gotten home after midnight, woken up the next morning, watched some football, and lazed around recovering from our journey. I had been sick but trying to stave it off so I could enjoy our trip, but all the days of staying awake longer than I should and eating bad-for-you-fast food on the road all seemed to culminate yesterday. I felt too bad to even go out to the truck and retrieve my book between naps. So I grabbed a book that has been on my shelf for some time, “The Principles of Uncertainty” by Maira Kalman. It’s an illustrated book on her musings about life – in general and in detail. I was three-quarters of the way through when the heaviness of it just hit me. This book brings to the surface all the dark thoughts I try to hide in the corners of my brain because they are alarming and scary. Thoughts to do with purpose, death, love, suffering. You know what I’m talking about. Kalman just comes out and says all the things I don’t like to think about, and I there I was about three-quarters of the way through the book feeling empty and awash in despair. I had a bit of a cry and my husband was nice enough to hug me and not ask too many questions and I sat there thinking about what an amazing creature he is. Not just him, but all of us. And my doggies sat there looking up at me, and I couldn’t help but think about what amazing creatures they are. How they have emotions just like me, and how they love and fear and want to live. And then I thought about all those doggie emotions multiplied by I don’t even know my much and I was wondering what the point is to feel all that I feel. Why so much fear? Why so much love? Why so much THINKING about it all? I mash down all these things because I don’t like to think about them because even one errant thought can open the well to an abyss of dark thoughts, but Kalman made me think about them on the day I just wanted to lay on the sofa and rest. She made me angry that for just one day I couldn’t push all these things away and be free of them.

But think about them I did.

I don’t know if you believe in God, but I do. That opens up a whole host of other questions, but really we can ignore all those details today. On days when I don’t know much else, I do know I believe in God. We are such amazing creatures – so well designed, except for premature balding, which my husband pointed out was a flaw that leaves his head cold when he ventures outside in the bitter Wyoming winter air – but really when you think about all the systems of the body and then think about the fact that we reproduce that again and again when a new child is born, and that no two people are the same, ever, and we all have complex systems that work (most of the time) and brains that think complex thoughts and have an unlimited capacity for love. It’s amazing.

I think about our amazing, unique planet that is just right for all of us to live on, and how many other planets and solar systems and stars and universes there are out there. We don’t even know how far space exists beyond us. It must be infinite, because what would lie beyond space?

I think about all these things and I know for certain that I know very little. And I know for certain that something else knows it all, set it all in motion, and created it all. But Kalman’s book still asks a question that begs for an answer – “What is the point of my existence?” What would it matter if I lay down on the sofa and refused to move, ever again? What would it matter if I lived for me and me alone without regard to anyone else? What does anything matter?

The answer is that it DOES matter. Simply by being born we are connected to a web of other people and it is impossible not to weave that web infinitely as we move through life, making friends, finding love, meeting strangers. If you believe as I do that God created us, and that we are here for his glory, I can’t think of a better way to glorify Him than to love this life and do the best we can with what we have been given.

Taking photos can seem like a frivolous way to spend my time here on Earth, compared to, say, curing cancer or curbing pollution or raising orphans. But you know what? I think all of these things, taking photographs included, are ways of saying “thank you” to God for creating us. I think all the ways we can enjoy this beautiful Earth He has given us and all the ways we can love one another are pleasing to Him. Maybe that is it. Maybe being grateful for it all and expressing that gratitude with our actions is all there is to it. Maybe that is the point of free will, if you believe in such a thing. Maybe giving us the choice of what to do with our lives and seeing what we do with them, to enjoy our lives and give thanks for them, maybe that is it. Maybe that is all there is to this life, the one we are living right now.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I am going to think of when the dark, empty thoughts pop up from time to time, as I know they will. My life is not empty. I am frequently overwhelmed with the glorious details of life – colors and smells and tastes and feelings and love. These things God put here and these things are good and it is good for me to enjoy them. I am glad that I was created with senses to enjoy these things. The people in my web are glad that I am here, as I am glad that they are part of my life. Not every day is filled with sunshine and flowers, but is every day worth living, so that we may truly appreciate the sunshine and flowers? I think so.

Are you happy with your life? Are you enjoying the infinite wonders of God’s Earth? Are you thankful for all the little things as well as all the big ones? Has God given you the tools to right what feels wrong? There is no ‘perfect’ on this Earth. But there is genuine joy in every day, and I know we are all capable of finding it. “The Principles of Uncertainty” peers into the darkness, but Kalman knows how to find joy, too, in the everyday. She sees beauty in the garbage cans on French streets and in desert and in other people be they friends or strangers. I found this book upsetting, but at the same time I see that Kalman is perhaps proving my point.

I read somewhere that attachment was the root of all unhappiness - attachment to things, life, people. This philosophy certainly would help me clean out my closets, but without attachment, I would know no happiness, either I think. Love of other people, of my doggies – that is certainly worth the unhappiness that comes with separation and loss. Love of art and design – looking at my walls full of art that makes me smile, painted with colors that make my heart sing – the joy that brings me now is worth knowing I will never be happy with white walls in a rental if I were to move. Love of comfort – I’ll take having a full belly and feeling snug in my house on this winter day because I know if I ever have to feel hungry and cold I will be miserable whether I was hungry and cold the day before or not. I am convinced we are hard-wired to be attached – why would we all insist on pairing off knowing what the divorce rate is? Why would we have children knowing what a financial strain they will be? The reason is that we want to love and be love – attachment. And when these things still leave us with an empty feeling, perhaps we are simply resisting the ultimate attachment, to God?

Well, those are the big thoughts swirling around my head at the beginning of this new year. If you just stopped by for the photos, forgive me. I will be back tomorrow with more photos and less words. If you’d like to share any thoughts on any of this, please leave a comment. That’s another good thing that comes from attachment, in my opinion – knowing we are not alone and helping each other process all the things we feel. Happy New Year.


  1. Victoria,
    This post raises so many of my own thoughts...
    Thisalong with the photos tells of who you truly are. A very, very good thing in my opinion.
    I have to let these thoughts swirl and settle...Perhaps I'll have something to add later but for now I'd like to merely say,
    Thank you.
    And Happy New Year.
    Much affection and attachment ;)

  2. First of all, Happy New Year Victoria! Wow, what a post...that triggered some uncomfortable thinking on my part as well. I am not religious but I do believe in love and gratitude and kindness and beauty. And I believe true happiness lies in having less material things and having more loving relationships with both people and animals.
    Thanks for the inspiring words :)

  3. Happy New Year to you both, as well!

    Thanks, Andrea - much affection and attachment on this end as well :)

    Kristina - sorry to share the uncomfortable thoughts but it is just so hard to NOT think about them sometimes, you know? I watched a wonderful episode of Oprah yesterday that was on civility and one of the guests summed up that all of the small actions we take everyday to be civil to one another add up to how we treat each other in this world - and "What could be more important than that," he asked. I thought it so true, and I know most people feel the same way :) It is so nice to meet other nice folks on the internet and you are certainly one of them :) You too, Andrea :)

  4. Wow! Happy New Year and thanks for the insightful post. Funny how the New Year can have your brain running 100mph! (mine is, but the thoughts / goals are so scattered I'm having a hard time focusing) Reading this, reminded me to stop and appreciate the little things, and enjoy the journey rather than always trying to race to the finish. Thanks for putting it all out there!