The Simple Life

A week ago I was just getting back from seeing my families. In my original family, my place is that of a son and a brother; in my family of choice, I am a husband, stepfather and grandfather. My granddaughter calls me Zaydie out of respect for my Jewish heritage. It was her parents’ idea. That was very considerate of them. My grandson doesn’t say anything yet. He’s only seven months old. It felt really good when my stepdaughter would come home from her day’s work saying, “Hello, family.” For a time the whole family was together, including my other stepdaughter and her boyfriend. My stepdaughters’ father was there too for a short time. We get along pretty well.

Ok, so it’s only a relatively simple life.

When does life start getting complicated?

My granddaughter started asking questions about Ann Frank the other day. Her parents don’t know where she picked that up, but she is a very inquisitive girl. She uses the Internet a lot. Plus she is starting to find out some not-so-nice things about 4th grade sociodynamics: “You can’t sit next to me on the school bus,” and so on. All part of life, I guess.

My own life

I think my life was complicated from the very beginning. My older brother was there already. He was and is totally impaired: autistic, profoundly retarded and nonverbal.

The reason I bring this up is that I am trying to refine my philosophy of life, if I even have one. The religious route did not work for me. I am too much of a skeptic. I remember thinking that existentialism might be a good fit.

I do not believe that there is any inherent meaning in life. But that is not to say that life cannot mean what you want it to mean. I think one can imbue life with whatever meaning works for one’s self. When I say, “whatever works,” I mean if one needs to put blinders on to block out what conflicts with one’s happy life, that is fine, unless real life pokes its ugly head in for a rude awakening.

In my effort to learn more about existentialism I started with Existentialism is a Humanism, by Sartre, which led me to The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus. My high school reading of The Stranger was a distant memory, but there were several lines in The Myth of Sisyphus that brought me back to the way I thought as an early adolescent.

“I know another truism: it tells me that man is mortal. … It is essential to consider as a constant point of reference in this essay the regular hiatus between what we fancy we know and what we really know, practical assent and simulated ignorance which allows us to live with ideas which, if we truly put to the test, ought to upset our whole life.” [1]

There you have it: my lack of simulated ignorance as a 13 year old leading me to my life as a skeptic. No wonder I gravitated to the Woody Allen persona, who was bent on educating Annie Hall by bestowing upon her, books about death; and in the movie Radio Days, adolescent Allen stopped studying in Hebrew School because ‘the universe is expanding’.

I do like his ending to Annie Hall where he tells of two old ladies criticizing the restaurant in which they are eating. One says to the other, “The food here is terrible.” To which the other says, “Yes it is, and such small portions.”

Fortunately, or should I say hopefully, there is still time for me to get my philosophy sufficiently together to make some personal sense of life. I should adopt that travel motto, “Getting there is half the fun.” The other choice would be: “Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us.” I don’t know if I would, even if I could.

[1] Camus, A.; O’Brien, J. Translator The Myth of Sisyphus New York: Vintage International 1983

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