Why am I here?

Wed 04/21/04 at 5:42 pm

Okay, I’m going to try to recreate the process I went through in creating this latest entry. Most of what I consider to be blog-worthy thoughts fall far short of the epiphany mark for me. Some merely unfold gently and calmly in my brain. Others explode with what Darcy calls BFOs (blinding flashes of the obvious) — those thoughts that result in a figurative, sometimes even literal, slap of the forehead. Epiphanies, though, travel like a lightening strike from my brain into my solar plexus and ignite me inside out. Epiphanies are deep red with pink around the edges.

In the early days I’d walk them off. In my teens, I’d fight fire with fire and smoke. In my later teens, I’d douse them with scotch, et al. Then it was back to just cigarettes. As my brother once quipped, “We had a cigarette for every emotion.” Epiphanies though meant several cigarettes in fairly rapid succession. Now, I let spacetime take care of them (though ice cream does help).

Before getting to this morning’s epiphanic moment, I need to provide some context. Especially during my life as an attorney, I would (more often than I care to admit) find myself arising from my desk, wandering into the hallway, and stopping abruptly, usually just in front of my legal assistant’s cubicle, and questioning, out loud, “Who am I, and why am I here?” The question for me was triggered by the fact that I had quite simply forgotten why I found myself standing in the hallway. My legal assistant though, never one to let any question, even a rhetorical one, go unanswered, would usually say, “You are C. Kristine Osnes, Esquire, and you are here because you love the law.”

First, I’m sure it does not escape you, as it does not escape me, that I just characterized what is so often identified as an individual’s life purpose as a rhetorical question. Second, while I did, and do, love the chase for the ever-just-elusive seamless web that can be spun out of legal argument and interpretation; I was there, more and more, for the money. I finally quit when I realized no one could pay me enough to do it any more. (Well that, and the fact I didn’t have kids to put through college).

Anyway, given that for me, wondering who I am goes hand in hand with wondering why I am here, I sat down at my computer this morning thinking a companion piece to my “Who I am” entry was in order. I deliberately chose to entitle my previous entry as an affirmative statement. I figured that one out quite some time ago. Knowing who I am wasn’t the problem. It was being able to be who I am. I am grateful my life has evolved to a point where that is, indeed, possible.

Why I am here still poses a question, but not one that troubles me much anymore. Here is neither the place nor the time (spacetime, again) to detail my search for the meaning of, or even if there is a meaning to, my life or anyone else’s. If ever I actually finish my novel, whose working title is The First Voice, a good deal of my search will be recorded therein. In brief, writing and thinking about The First Voice led me to research the concept of sentience — thinking the term could serve as a more elegant-sounding synonym for the concept of self-awareness. (I sure thought that’s what Jean Luc and the others meant whenever they encountered a new life form.) According to Merriam-Webster Online, however, sentience means “feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and thought.” In contrast, self-awareness means “an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.”

Though controversy exists as to whether other creatures or objects are, or can become, self-aware, ultimately, I agree with those who have concluded self-awareness must, by definition, include an awareness of death — especially an awareness of one’s own death. Further discussion of this aspect of self-awareness, however, can wait for another day. For my present purposes, it suffices that self-awareness means we tend to question our place in the world, the galaxies, the universe(s). Surely there must be more to it than this; surely there must be a reason for being; surely there must be others out there. These days, I find I’m spending a lot of time thinking about Stephen Hawking’s supposition in this regard. He speculates:

[T]here is a very low probability either of life developing on other planets or of that life developing intelligence. Because we claim to be intelligent, though perhaps without much ground, we tend to see intelligence as an inevitable consequence of evolution. However, one can question that. It is not clear that intelligence has much survival value. Bacteria do very well without intelligence and will survive us if our so-called intelligence causes us to wipe ourselves out in a nuclear war. So as we explore the galaxy we may find primitive life, but we are not likely to find beings like us.

The Universe in a Nutshell, p. 171.

In this context, then, I closed my eyes a while ago and asked, why am I here? In response, I heard in my mind’s ear, I think therefore I am. I am. The [present] first person singular of [the infinitive] “to be.” I be. No, I am. Why am I here? No, why I be here? And then I experienced the lightening followed by the spreading warmth of realization — what Virginia Woolf labeled the moment. What Joyce calls an epiphany. And on the heels of the moment, came the struggle to translate the mindspeak engendered by the epiphany into a language others might understand. I’m not yet fluent enough in the English language to prevail in that endeavor. Here, though, is as much of the after-the moment-process as I can remember, as well as what I did to augment the memories as I wrote this account.

The first thing I remember is thinking of the French version of Descartes’ theory. Je pense, donc je suis. I also remarked to myself that nothing gets lost in the translation. My painful study of French required me to be learn about infinitives, tenses, and regular and irregular verbs. So I already knew that the infinitive of I am is to be. I knew to be was an irregular verb because instead of I be, the present first person singular form is I am. Just for fun, I looked up the term infinitive. According to good old M-W, the use of the term as a noun means “a verb form normally identical in English with the [present] first person singular that performs some functions of a noun and at the same time displays some characteristics of a verb and that is used with to (as in ‘I asked him to go’) except with auxiliary and various other verbs (as in ‘no one saw him leave‘).” (Emphasis in the original.) My epiphany left me with the following questions: (1) Why was to be an irregular verb? (2) Where did am come from? (3) Could I think of any other verbs where the irregular form of the present first person singular means something different from what would have been the regular form of the present first person singular? Perhaps someday I’ll take the time to try and find the answers.

At present, however, I (and probably you) have pretty much lost sight of what any of this discussion has to do with why I am, or we or you (singularly and plurally) or they are, or he, she, or it is, here. I am certain that understanding the distinction between aming and being in the context of the two primary questions with which I started out this morning meant something important earlier today. I am less certain at this hour. Maybe it’s as simple as I am not am unless I think, but I can be and not think. I guess that really only works if you agree with Descartes instead of Popeye. Still, even if Hawking is right, and we are simply an evolutionary fluke of the universe and a mere blip in spacetime such that our only reason for being is that we be, I like the opportunity I’ve got to be who I am.

next post: I See Said the Blind[person]
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