Friday, June 28, 2013
I caught myself thinking today that life is a lot like a ladder that we know we have to climb in order to get to wherever we are going.....but it is like a ladder in a dense, dense fog. Only one, or maybe a few, steps are visible at any given moment.
I don't know about anyone else, but I have a serious fear of heights. I don't know when I acquired that. My favorite pastime as a child was climbing to the top of a huge pine tree that grew by the corner of my childhood home. I would sit in those branches, surveying the scenery, loving the wind, loving the sway of that narrower (and only NOW, to my adult brain, more risky) upper trunk. Loving the piney odor of the sticky sap that would invariably stick all over my clothes and my hands. I would look down upon a mourning dove's nest, marveling at the eggs and then the babies that appeared in it. There was also an abandoned gravel pit on a neighbor's property that still had the old conveyer belts and machinery, long idle, sitting in the sun. After gleefully climbing those rickety conveyer belts whose rubber was corroding from the sun and whose structure was corroding from the elements, I would spend hours scouring thru the pebbles and rocks, always picking the ones that had the little sparkly bits in them, or the faint vestiges etched in them from some creature from long ago that had become somehow entombed within their mass.
It always seemed somewhat magical to me, to see the outline of a creature whose body had long since succumbed to the elements, yet whose imprint was left behind in such a tangible form........it seemed somehow significant, to my childlike brain, that a creature whose overall existence was of such short (and probably very difficult) duration, of no importance other than to itself and possibly a few other creatures like itself, yet because of its death, and the unfathomable workings of nature, left behind such clear evidence of its own existence, to be stumbled upon eons later by a child searching thru a pile of rocks.
It was like the proverbial 'message in a bottle', preserved by some unseen yet loving hand of nature, via the slow and seemingly 'unplanned' elements, leaving a testament to those who took the time to find it that ALL life, no matter how short, or how small, or how seemingly insignificant, matters. And matters greatly enough for its long-gone presence to be lovingly preserved in a testament of rock.
Lots to be said for that. A testament of love, for a life that was, but was no longer....at least here.
Perhaps life is not so much like a ladder.....perhaps it is more like that old pine tree.
Life begins as nothing more than a seed.....a tiny grain of materially-manifested possibility. Some of what it will need to survive is contained within itself, the already encoded molecules that will determine what it will be, physically. But much of what it will need to eventually thrive and grow in this lifetime will later have to be absorbed from the environment around it. The warmth of the sun, the moisture of the rain, the nutrients of the soil....
Depending upon what sort of life it is meant to manifest, it will also need the assistance of so many other things. The bees that pollenate, the creatures around it that died before it, whose biological materials are absorbed into the soil and therefore provide the essential nutrients that will nourish the life that comes afterwards. Nature is an unfathomably intricate process for all living things, and so many things can go wrong along the way of it. If one necessary thing is lacking, it can indelibly mark the life that comes. And every tree has its own accumulation of knots.
And one dose of Round Up can put the kibbutz on everything.
We come into this world so small, and so dependent upon everyone and everything else.....we are a clean slate, and completely unaware of all of the steps that lie before us. We do not realize that we have a ladder to climb that will more resemble a gnarly old pine tree, with splinters that will painfully penetrate and possibly fester, sticky sap that will make all of the dirt and debris stick to us until we scrub it off, and limbs that can suddenly break, throwing us back to the ground to begin the painful climb all over again.
And face it......it's impossible to avoid the birds that come by occasionally to drop something disgusting all over you, or the predatory little pests who decide that you are the perfect host and consequently bore thru your shell to lay their little eggs that will hatch and then prey on you----little eggs of contention or seeds of strife or negativity. Just sayin'......
And then that damned fog........you have no choice but to just take each step as you can see it, because you don't really know where you are going, you just know you HAVE to go, because you really don't want to repeat the energy that it took to get to the rung you are currently on because it was hard enough just to get THERE. But you do sometimes find yourself on a really comfortable rung, where the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and you have some downright beautiful scenery to enjoy that makes your heart feel full. But life and nature can be very fickle things, usually.....eventually it will become uncomfortable to sit on that rung for any longer because the sun gets too hot, the singing is too loud and raucous, and the scenery has become humdrum, without its initial thrill. And the mosquitoes have come out. And you have a cramp in your leg from sitting so long. So you force yourself to begin making that climb again, in the fog, and not knowing if you will find broken rungs ahead, or possibly another rung that has even more pleasures to enjoy and to bask in for awhile.
And now and again, the occasional thunderstorm or heavy wind will come along that will necessitate you halting your progress and clinging for dear life to the rung on which you happen to find yourself when that occurs.
I guess whether you approach this climb with enthusiasm, excitement, dread, fear, or a mixture of them all pretty much depends upon what kind of rungs you were met with from the very beginning. And how many storms you had to contend with during your climb. Too many dings can create an awful lot of fear.
Some people's ladders are mostly escalators. Other people's ladders are covered with splinters and bird droppings, and some people's ladders have rotting rungs that break on them consistently and are angled thru the Bermuda Triangle of life.
Eventually, on your climb, you will happen across that proverbial mirror. I believe the psychologists will tell you that you have to reach a certain stage of development (or rungs) before you realize that when you look in a mirror, what you are really seeing is yourself, and not someone else. That is when your brain begins to self-evaluate.....you gaze at your image in that mirror, and you decide whether or not you particularly 'like' the image that comes back to you-----how it 'compares' to other people that you have met, how it 'compares' to the image
of yourself that you have in your brain.
I think most of us do not like mirrors, overall. But the oxymoron in that is that the reason we don't like mirrors is because they force us to look at ourselves. That can be a downright uncomfortable thing to do, depending upon what rung you are on. When you are just starting out on those first rungs, mirrors make you laugh, because when you see your face in the mirror, it is delightful to you, and so you make funny faces, and you do funny things, and you just plain enjoy the experience. There is no 'judgement' in yourself as to whether the image is 'good' or 'bad' at all. It's just fun. It is only when you are older (and further up the ladder, after many storms) that you use this mirror for other things....to see that glaring pimple on your face, or the image of yourself that seems so 'deficient' compared to the images that you see every day on the TV or in the magazines or anywhere else that you may go. And now and again, you will happen upon someone whose ladder is very close to your own and who will use their own mirror to blind your eyes.......and you will then learn to turn your own mirror upon others to do the same. Or you will occasionally find a mirror that is so warped, it does not portray an image that is at all accurate, but twisted, because the maker of that mirror for some reason decided to make it that way because they did not like the image of themselves that they saw.
And now and again, you will happen across someone whose mirror image (and possibly whose ladder) is very similar to your own, and when you each gaze into each other's mirrors, those mirrors become a window and you will see the resemblance between you and it will give you a warm feeling and that person will become a cherished friend whose presence will make your ascent much easier, at least for a time.
Does the ascent ever get any easier? I don't know. Nobody does. Because as long as you are on this ladder, that fog will never completely go away. It depends upon what territory your own personal ladder happens to take you thru...... and how many mirrors you encounter along that route, maybe, too. It's a sure bet that even the escalators have an occasional splinter.....and that even the worst ladders have an occasional smooth and easy rung that lets you rest for awhile.
And when it is done, and you have managed to reach the last rung of your ladder, you will find that when you are able to look backwards, back down that ladder, there is no fog....it has somehow miraculously disappeared from your sight, when always before, it was always so dense and unfathomable. And only then will you be able to see whatever imprint you yourself were able to leave behind, for anyone else who will come after you to climb that same ladder......and whether or not you were able to repair some of those rungs, to make the next person's ascent just a tiny bit easier or at least less exhausting, or whether you only made the rungs even harder for someone else to climb, by beating on them out of anger or revenge or anything else and only causing more splinters. And how many mirrors you warped or straightened on your journey for others to see themselves in.
Not many of us are able to leave behind something so graphic as a fossilized image of ourselves encapsulated in granite, altho there are certainly some really big egos out there who have attempted to do just that. But ALL of us will leave behind some kind of imprint on this world, and on its consciousness. And everything that has been or ever will be created then becomes an integral part of that consciousness, because consciousness, you see, never dies.....it is eternal.
It is said that God has placed eternity in the hearts of mankind. It is also said that each of our lives is only one thread of a universal tapestry. I like this analogy. It makes me think that I would not like to be one of those whose thread is so weak that it destroys the integrity of the tapestry in any way. While we can't help but unwittingly do just that, when we are on a particularly exhausting rung or when we are being assailed by those winds or other hardships and clinging for dear life, as long as you are still weaving, it is within your power to repair the integrity of your thread beyond the point where it was broken down.
Most of all, a tapestry is meant to be a thing of beauty enjoyed by all......
The day will come when that tapestry will be hung, and supported, by all of our ladders, and there will be no more need of mirrors because we will be able to see it for what it truly is, in all of its beauty and with all of the occasional little flaws that makes it even more unique....and priceless. And then we will understand our own value.
And we will then understand that we were all equal contributors, of equal value to the completion of this beautiful tapestry of the universe. And the tree of life that will be made of all of our ladders will soar to the heavens in glory. It will have many knots, but the knots will only make it stronger and more unique. And we might be sad for the knots, but we will understand that some of them came to be because we did not have the proper environment, or the proper nutrients, or the emotional strength to do anything other than just cling to our rung. Or maybe we got hit in the eyes with someone else's mirror a few times too many and became discouraged. We will understand that we were only human, because we were not able to be anything but that. It was what we were meant to be.
I once had a history teacher who told me that in its original language, the meaning of my maiden name was 'sturdy tree'. But in this life, I have struggled to be anything other than a fractured splinter. I somehow think that this does not make me unique in any way, because this life is generally not very kind, at times, to any of us. I think that life likes to give each of us a healthy dose of Round Up on our way up these rungs. Sometimes we dose ourselves without meaning to.
All we can do is keep climbing. Because the view, in the end, will be well worth it. And who knows.......maybe at some point along the way, long after you are gone and predominantly forgotten, someone may happen upon your 'fossil'.
Make your imprint one worth passing on. And while you're at it, if you come across a broken rung along your journey, do your best to patch it up and sand it so it will be smoother for the next person.
And it probably wouldn't hurt to build a 'seat' along this way just so someone else can come and rest for awhile......