They bring me their problems.
There is a glitch in this program. My screen looks funny. Why is it so slow? I can’t find the essay I was working on. It’s never made that sound before. Where are all of my pictures?
They bring me their problems and it’s my job to help them.
Often they are frantic, or disgusted. They might be angry on occasion, even belligerent.
And when we are done, if I have solved their problem, some of them are genuinely thankful. More often, however, they seem somewhat detached from the experience, almost dismissive.
I think it has to do with the fact that they believe this thing that happened to them, shouldn’t have happened. They should not have had to come to me at all, and I am, whatever my efforts on their behalf, tainted as a result.
It’s not a big deal, people don’t like going to the doctor either. I understand, and for the most part, I don’t even notice. Because I’m already moving on to the next customer, and the one after that.
And then you meet someone different, like the little old lady who came to me last week.
She was smiling and pleasant, and far more patient than she had any right to be.
“Hello,” she said, with a warm light in her eyes, “My name is —–, I have a terminal brain tumor and only a few weeks left to live. This is my computer and I’d like you to erase all of my information from it, so that my husband can use it after I’m gone.”
I spent about forty minutes with her, trying to squeeze a little more life into a computer that was, itself, not in the best of health. As I worked, she spoke in snippets about her own life, things she thought I might be interested in, like her adventures as a young woman in the workplace, using the sort of computers which most of us have only seen in old movies, the kind that would fill an entire room.
Here I was, fighting to take up as little of her precious time as I was able, and she, in turn, was doing what she could to make those moments count, by sharing her own experiences, by forging a connection with a complete stranger.
I did what I could for her, which, I am afraid, wasn’t much, and then she was gone.
And with the passage of a few more weeks, I suppose she really will be.
Gone and gone, except for the memories she left behind, of which I am now privileged to carry a few — her knowing smile, her laugh, and a handful of nostalgic remembrances of a technology which was as remarkable in those days as moon landings and the polio vaccine.
In the days that have passed, it has been difficult to care as much about all the little technical issues which people bring me. Their all too frequent indignation seems misplaced and misspent. And I wonder, if they knew how much time they really had, if they would still choose to squander it the way they do, with so much energy focused on such small problems.
I mean, it’s not as if every one of them isn’t dying as well.
We live in a society which, for the most part, sees life, the actual business of living, as a means to an end. For several hundred years now, the dominant belief has been that we are born, live and die as prelude to an eternal afterlife. The shape in which we find that ever-after, is determined, or so we are taught, by our actions in this life.
If you are a bad person, you will spend eternity suffering for your misdeeds.
If you are a good person, you may look forward to a euphoric hereafter.
And we can set aside here, the question of what happens to good people who don’t believe the right way. Because, it is the basic premise that is important here: life as proving ground for afterlife. That idea which has come to shape the very structure of our lives.
We work throughout the day with the expectation that once the clock hits that magical hour, we head home, or out on the town, or wherever it is we think of as our due reward for the last few hours of toil.
The days run together and everybody’s working for the weekend.
Or that next spot of vacation.
Work now and play later.
Suffering = Reward.
All based on a promise that no one has ever been able to actually verify.
There are, of course, competing philosophies.
Atheism, for example, does not believe in any ultimate reward, but neither does it aspire to truly reshape society in any particular way. The atheistic world view is pretty much just the monotheistic one, subtracting the God and all of its trappings.
You’re still working for the weekend, only, without church. So, you’ll have a little more time to relax. The world is still the world and you’d better be willing to work and conform to everyone else’s expectations of what that looks like, if you want to get along.
I suppose, without the dogma attached, the average Atheist might be a little less tolerant toward actual suffering. There is no greater purpose to be found in the bad things that happen. No deity tossing Jobian hardships your way as a test of your faith.
In the other extreme, there are those Eastern philosophies which have gained a certain momentum in the West over the last century or so. Almost the exact opposite of the Atheistic world view, the Eastern thinker, sees the material world as an illusion, cluttering our minds and blocking our way to spiritual Nirvana.
All the day to day bullshit we go through, is exactly that, bullshit. And meaningless.
Just close your eyes and let it all go.
Which is all very cool, but I don’t really see a philosophy based on ignoring the material world, making any huge impact upon it. Even if we were counting the nationwide rise in the volume of yoga classes, we’re still talking less about a path to enlightenment, than we are, mom’s little reward to herself that she can fit in during the afternoon, while the kids are at soccer practice.
Atheism and Eastern Philosophy are just tiny eddies in the torrent which has formed at the conflux of the rivers Monotheism and Capitalism, and most who try to swim against that current are doomed to drown.
So here’s another philosophy for you to consider, another way of looking at the world, just a single drop of water in the deluge.
What if there is no everlasting reward or punishment, and no good and evil vying for our souls? What if this life is neither a proving ground nor a distraction?
Imagine for a moment, that there is no distinction between the wholly physical world of the Atheist and the wholly spiritual world of the Buddhist, because those worlds are one and the same. No closing our eyes and ears against the mathematical without blocking out the mystical, and vice versa.
What if we were beings of flesh and spirit in equal measure, and our actions, how we treat ourselves and each other, have the power to shape our experience of this world and all those worlds which exist just beyond the borders of our sight?
In such a world, there would be no distinction between those actions which are holy, and those which are, in our culture, seen as mundane.
Once, there were many who understood the world in this way. For a time, they ruled the world from the British Isles, through what was once Gaul, and a patchwork of shifting boundaries that stretched eastward across Europe as far as Asia Minor.
That way of thinking, for the most part, died out long ago. Put to the sword, first by the Legions of Rome, and later, by a new hybrid religion which took root in the death throes of the old empire, and then spread far beyond its borders.
Some would say that if the Celtic way of seeing the world had been correct, it wouldn’t have been so easily forgotten.
That may be so. But I’ve never been one to equate popularity with truth.
Life is not a test. Life is a quest. Everything we do, every kindness and misdeed is but a step upon a path that we can never see, except when we occasionally turn and look behind us. There is no heaven or hell, no final reward or judgement, and no true finality, as death is simply a passage over the horizon to a realm which is just beyond our sight. And if our ancestors spoke true, there may be more worlds beyond that. Or perhaps the path doubles back from time to time, and we find ourselves here again.
But whatever lies beyond those horizons, we are hear now, and the time we have is precious.
There is no sin in this world, unless it is the sin of missed opportunities. I look around and see a world of people who are just milling about, waiting for the curtain to rise on some final act that is never going to come. The inertia is tangible, I can feel it holding me in place like some ancient insect caught in amber, and by all the gods I am terrified that I will never escape.
I’ve never really spoken about my job in these pages because I don’t see it as part of my spiritual life. Maybe that is my fault. Maybe I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else, and I’ve come to understand the world as a polarity that does not actually exist. I’ve got the mortgage and the car payment, I’ve got all the little creature comforts and tribulations that are supposed to distract me from the fact that I’m being pushed downstream along with everyone else.
And it’s so hard to swim against that current, when the small problems weigh me down.
But I want more for myself, than life on a river to nowhere.
I’m that guy who makes your technology work again, who pays his bills, and votes in the elections, and donates to charities, and comes over to help you build some shelves, and writes a blog, and who can never find the time to complete his remodeling projects, and wonders what it would have been like to have had children, and wishes that he’d sacrificed more for his art, and, and, and…,
Life is a quest, and I’ve come late to that knowledge.
But how late is too late?
And how will I find my path?