Saturday, September 10, 2016

An Examined Life

Today is the anniversary of an accident in which I was pretty badly hurt.  As I said in a previous post, soon I'll write more about that injury and what it has meant for me.  For now, let me focus on the positive: I'm alive, and I'm slowly recovering. And I am grateful for what I have: for my wife and children, who have been supportive and patient as I heal; for my friends who were with me when I was injured and who got me the help I needed; for caring doctors, nurses, and physical therapists; for colleagues and friends who have gone out of their way to help me back to my feet; and for people near and far who have cared for me in small ways and large.  To all of you: thanks. 

Someone asked me this week, what will you do to commemorate the day of your accident? Here's my answer: today, I am enjoying being alive.  I went to the gym with a friend, I got vegetables from our CSA at the Farmers' Market; I spent time in the garden; and I spent some time thinking about what comes next.

Plato famously wrote that Socrates said "An unexamined life is not to be lived by a human being."  By that I think he meant that if we have the opportunity to examine our lives and we do not, we are missing something important.  I don't know if animals examine their lives (I suspect some do, but it's hard to know); and I do not know if God examines the divine life as we might examine our own.  Aristotle says in several places that it is human to ask questions.  The beasts don't know the questions, and the gods already know the answers.  We find ourselves somewhere between them; we have the questions, but not the answers.  To examine one's life is to attend to the questions.

So here is what I am doing, a year after my brush with mortality: I am asking questions.  I've heard it said that when you suffer a great loss, it's good not to make big changes for the next year. Allow the shaken world to settle again, take time to find your sea legs, and then, when you're feeling more able to sway with the waves, scan the horizon.  I don't offer that as good advice for everyone, but there seems to be some wisdom in it nonetheless: over the last year I've returned to it repeatedly when I feel restless, and it has helped me to have a calendar-plan.  When I feel like making a change, I say "Give yourself a full year." If nothing else, it has calmed the waters a bit, and given me ease of mind.

Two years ago I wrote another piece for this blog about my "twenty-year plan."  As I look back on it, I still think the stars I chose to steer by are good ones.  Now, as I examine my life, I am adding two things: a five-year plan, and a seven generations plan.

The five-year plan is this: the one-year calendar has been helpful, so now I am giving myself a five-year calendar.  I am eager to use my days and years well, so for the next five years I will continue to examine my life and to ask: am I using this time well?  I don't mean I'll be spending five years in omphaloskepsis. What I mean is that I don't plan to leap into something new, but to tend the tiller of my life, and to do what I can to steer the best course.  That's still a metaphor, I know.  Bear with me.  I'm still working out the details.

Some of the details are clear, though.  What I said two years ago remains true.  Here's what I wrote then:
* I want to be more in love with my wife, and to be helping her to be glad to be in love with me twenty years from now;
* I want to continue to learn new things;
* I want to live near my kids for at least part of every year;
* I want to earn what we need, and to be a generous giver to those who have a hard time doing so.
Now I have some things to add, but I will sum them up in this: I want to invest for seven generations.  That is, I don't want to be so focused on the urgent things that clamor for my attention that I lose sight of those things of enduring value.  Imagine designing a building, as Gaudí did in designing the Sagrada Familia, that you will never see completed.  Imagine building the seed-vault of Svalbard, something that you hope will never have to be used, but that is an investment in those who might come after us.  This is what I want to imitate; I want to invest my time and skills in things that will be a gift to those who come later.  It's not that I want a shrine to my name; I don't care about that.  It's that I want to leave behind something worth inheriting, even if I am forgotten by those who receive it.

So I have no big changes in store, but I have a star to steer by, one that's too far away for me to reach, but by whose light my eye glistens with delightful anticipation.  Let the examination continue, for the sake of living well now, and for all the years - and generations - that I have before me.


  1. Greetings David! I am a chemistry educator, Peirce fanboi, and recently reverted Catholic from the Southern Hemisphere. Just found your site through one of those Brownian motion clicking-from-link-to-link paths on the internet - someone tweeted a link to the fact that a journal I'd never heard of was closing down, and a book review of yours was one of the few things that was free to access on the site, and then I saw you were a Peirce scholar, so had to google you. Yes, I am supposed to be marking assignments now. How did you guess? Anyway, just thought I would say g'day, as to my way of thinking blogs should be all about dialogue. Hope to provide some more substantive comment later. :)

    1. Greetings, Chris! Thanks for taking the time to read what I wrote, and to respond to it so thoughtfully. I look forward to hearing more from you, either here or by email. All blessings,