Why are We Here?

Thu 08/04/05 at 3:23 pm

I suspect many of you may be surprised to learn that on some level I believe the answer to the title question is essentially the answer Jesus Christ ostensibly gave to the rich young man in response to his question, “[W]hat good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” The author of the Gospel of Matthew tells us that Christ replied, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (And Liberation Theology was born.) The biblical passage continues, “[b]ut when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” This action on the part of the young man prompted Christ to utter one of his more famous declarations, “And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19: 16, 21-22, 24 (KJV). Even though I grew up Lutheran, “grace, not works” never quite did it for me. For me, it’s pretty much black and white. I just don’t think a person can be a Christian and still have a swimming pool unless and until everybody who wants a swimming pool has a swimming pool.

For that matter, putting a Christian face on what I consider my responsibility to my fellow inhabitants of this planet is just one more way to excuse my inaction. In truth, I believe everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender — does “gender” replace “sex” these days? I’ve neglected to keep up. If so, does “gender orientation” replaced “sexual orientation?” I just want to use the most up-to-date terms of inclusiveness, so that no one escapes — should do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone else in the world has more than the bare necessities, rather that everyone has enough. I’ve no doubt this could happen. For instance, the economist Jeffrey Sachs has written a book entitled The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time in which, I’m told by the Amazon blurb, he details how the foundation for such an outcome; i.e., ending “global extreme poverty,” could be put in place in a matter of 20 years — probably much sooner if, indeed, everyone’s energy and attention was focused on factoring the needs of the world’s population to the lowest common denominator and taking it from there. That said, I have chosen to keep my toys, and so, worst case, hell awaits. (“I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell, . . . but I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell, only my dying will tell.” Laura Nyro, And When I Die.)

You’re probably asking yourself about now, where in the world is Kris going with all of this? Well, much as I try to ignore the flapping, every so often these days, I get a glimpse of time’s winged chariot in my peripheral vision. As many of you know, my lungs are trashed. COPD. Classic panlobular emphysema, to be exact. Not long after my initial diagnosis, I was advised to get on a lung transplant list because the wait for lungs was up to three (or even more) years and there was speculation mine wouldn’t hold out even that long. Thankfully, they have. The latest prediction (as of late 2004) is that I have a 45% chance of making it five years with the lungs as they are, or a 55% chance of making it five years with new lung(s). Either way it goes downhill from there. I’m sticking with my lungs for the present, though my recent (first) hospitalization as the result of an acute exacerbation event was certainly a wake up call. I had no idea. Also, not too long ago, I had a rather sobering discussion with a pulmonologist who felt the need to tell me that in his opinion the odds of my actually undergoing a lung transplant are “slim to slim.” I try not to obsess. After all, even the prospect of a few good years may be wishful thinking. I could come down with pneumonia tomorrow or get hit by an SUV or there might be an accidental launch of nuclear warheads that wipes out the planet. Hopefully, though, I’ve got at least five more years.

So the threshold issue becomes what to do in these next five years. The lungs have somewhat circumscribed my choices. Travel and golf require the expension (have I just made up a word? My OED says why yes, yes I have) of too much energy. Becoming semi-adept at chess or bridge requires more time than I’m willing to devote to those endeavors at this juncture. The same goes for learning the language of mathematics or poetry. (When I think of the time I’ve saved reaching these conclusions, why I’m feeling younger already.)

At present, I spend my days either reading or playing computer/video games. I read the Writer’s Almanac every morning and the New York Times Book Review, and whenever a book or an author strikes my fancy, I add another selection to my Amazon Wishlist. Once the total for books exceeds $25, thereby qualifying for free shipping, I place an order. My “reading list” is a two-shelf bookcase that holds about 100 books. Over time, even though I manage to finish one or two books a week, it’s filled up and the overflow has spilled over onto my computer desk shelf. As for video games, I possess both an X-box and a PS2. I adore FPSs (First Person Shooters) (Halo, Max Payne, etc.) and I have many, many yet to play. I could, without more, easily do nothing other than read and play games for the next five years. Most of me believes that in the end, doing nothing other than reading and playing will “matter” about as much as anything else I might choose to do in the time I have left.

Nonetheless, even the most cynical part of me finds it hard to believe that the answer to why I am here is to kill aliens on my x-box. I know what I’d like the answer to be. I’d like it if my destiny is to write this novel I’ve been thinking about for nearly twenty years. Before my diagnosis, I had conducted a significant amount of research, outlined the basic plot points as they had presently been revealed, and written about a hundred pages. You’d think, after all the books I’ve read about the need to discover one’s destiny, and upon its discovery the hero’s inevitable failure or refusal to follow said destiny, coupled with having been diagnosed with a terminal illness, that I should already have realized my destiny and have a manuscript in the hands of an agent. But NOOOOOO. Even though I’m on disability and have days on end to write, like Isabel Archer in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, who once had the world before her and turned away, I can be as stubborn about fulfilling my destiny as the next person. I have, at best, half-heartedly continued to work on the book. I’ve continued to add to the research pile and have “polished” about half of the already written portion. I created Walking Raven in the hope it would provide a jump-start. Act as if, and all that. So far to no avail.

But I remember that someone, somewhere, in a book I read or a movie I saw or a play I attended kept repeating throughout, “Never be daunted!” So I’m renewing my effort to write my novel. And whether anyone reads this blog or not, I knew when it debuted and I still know that it will play an integral part in the fulfillment of my destiny (if one ascribes to such things).

Postscript

Since I began thinking about the particulars of my novel, I have had more than a few “DO do DO do” (think Twilight Zone theme song) moments. I had one in connection with this particular entry. On or about the same day I began writing it, I finished reading The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin — quite good, by the by. I recently arranged my reading list bookcase alphabetically by author, and the next book up would have been Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Instead, I decided I’d change the selection format and read the first book the title of which began with “A.” It turned out to be the 10th anniversary edition of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. For those of you who have already read it, well, imagine my surprise. For those of you who have not, give it a read and imagine my surprise.

next post: Plate O’ Shrimp

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