Existential Angst

I've been a tad quiet lately (for me) because I've been sort of going through an existential crisis.

When I was in college, I came home for my first Spring Break and, because I couldn't get enough of my group of college friends, I met a bunch of them for dinner. My particular group of friends during this time was a group of Deep Thinkers. We would meet at a little bar/cafe near campus and talk for hours, HOURS, about the meaning of life and why there was air and other Deep Things. So, on this spring break, I went to do the same thing because we hadn't quite figured the Air Thing out yet.

I would like to make very plain that I was underage and not drinking on this particular night. Because I had the weirdest experience--I've never forgotten it--and I don't want y'all thinking that it was alcohol-induced. Or that there was any other funny stuff involved, if you know what I mean.

While seated at this table of people, I had the distinct feeling of both being AT the table and ABOVE the table. (Remember--no mood altering substances involved!) (Also? Not a near-death experience. There was no tunnel, no light, no one beckoning me forward.) (I know, I know--it's very odd. There I was: stone sober and floating above a table in a nice restaurant in Dallas.)

And as I was fully participating in the conversation, I was also sort of floating above it, thinking, "But nothing anyone here is saying is truly original thought! This is all intellectual regurgitation! We are all FRAUDS."

I excused myself and drove home to my parent's house and sat down on my bed (which was actually not MY bed but the guest room bed since as soon as I left for college my parents turned my bedroom into their study and sold my bed.) (Not that I'm bitter.) (Can you say, "youngest of four children off to college, hallelujah?") and stared at the wall. There is nothing as lonely as an eighteen year old college freshman whose world has just been shaken to its core and who is out of chocolate and sitting in the guest room of her parents' house.

I started to think, 'well, maybe true original thought doesn't really exist except in a mind like an Einstein or a Mozart or other people who have the capacity to change the world.'

Which, um, begs the question, "So, if most of us are not endowed with talents or intellectualism to change the world, what the heck are we doing here?"

My mother came into my the guest room at this point and sensing that something was up, asked me what was going on. I told her about my revelations of the evening and she said, "Well, I believe that our purpose here is to do the best we can, to be kind and honorable and to leave the world a little better than we found it. We don't all have the capacity to change the world so we work with what we have."

My mother is not the most comforting person in the world. But she is pragmatic and very honest.

So, then I went back to college and told my boyfriend, who was not really part of my social circle of clove cigarette-smoking pseudo-intellectuals, about the whole experience and he looked at me and said, "Well, *I* know why we're here."

I said, "Really? Why?"

And he said, "God." And then there was a lot of kissing and for a long time I studied religions and theology and did a lot more kissing until it all got sort of confused in my brain--the boy and kissing and God.

When the boy and I broke up, many years later, I sort of lost my religion and my church home, too, but never my belief in God.

Then I met my husband (really, really good kissing) and we got married and had children and my life was all about keeping them from dying by feeding them and washing them and entertaining them and fighting with them about screen time.

Fast-forward eleven years and here I am with my children vastly more independent (although they still need me to reach the ice cream sandwiches) and my husband working a lot of hours and I sit, having the same attack of questions I had 26 years ago as a naive college kid. If I'm not here to do great things and change the world and be on Oprah, why AM I here? What am I doing with my life?

So, I've been struggling with these large deep questions and I've talked to a few of my cyber friends about this and in the end, I keep coming back to God and small things. Because the God I know doesn't charge me to go out and do Big Things and change the course of the world --especially if those Big Important Things are about glorifying MYSELF. He/She/FSM charges me to be a good person (no lying, cheating, murdering, adultering...) and to go about my day loving people and doing the small things before me with as much love and grace and gratitude as I can muster.

There's this great John Hiatt song called "Through Your Hands" that says, "Whatever your hands find to do, you must do with all your heart." Sometimes I forget, though, and I become discontented with the small things: the thousands of meals I make that don't get eaten, the tons of laundry I turn right-side-out and fold neatly that ends up back in the hamper, the six trips a week I make to the grocery store because I can't ever get organized enough to buy everything at once...the sheer mind-numbing repetitive futility of it all robs me of my joy. I wish there was a reset button that would bring me back to the place where I could appreciate the rhythm of these small days.

Of course, as soon as I wrote that, Spring arrived all in a rush and it turns out there IS a reset button. Ana (11) and I started some seeds on Earth Day and here it is, three days later and we have sprouts --miraculous and tiny. It's the ultimate microcosm of how small things have the potential to bring great joy (not to mention a summer's worth of tomato sandwiches.)

I guess there are all kinds of ways to change the world.


Carolyn said…
I am a closet deep thinker.

This was your best post yet.

Mrs.Q said…
Are you reading my mind or something? Your last three posts have all been right, as they say, on the button for me.

'Specially this one. Been doing a bit of this myself lately. Thanks (again!) for articulating what's floating around in my head! (And your Mom, too - she sounds like a smart cookie)
Stefanie said…
That is beautiful, Barb.
kim said…
First - Lovely photo.

I really enjoyed this post. I'm still trying to figure it all out myself. Most days I feel pretty insignificant in the giant scheme of things.

I've always want to have an out of body experience...
Jen said…
Thank you for saying so much of what I am thinking much of the time. With these three little ones looking to me for EVERYTHING, EVERYDAY it is so overwhelming, and yet I am so humbled to be entrusted with their survival.
MadMad said…
The whole fraud thing really got to me... I find myself thinking that all the time.
Miriam said…
I think I had that same late-night diner "fraud" revelation with all my theatah-school-wannabe-philosopher weirdo undergrad friends. And if you need that many modifiers, are they really your friends at all? I wish so badly for my girls to have a simple (or perhaps I should rather say uncomplicated), sweet vision of the world and their places in it. Not that they need not question the whys and wherefores. Oh, I dunno. You said it very well. And your seed sprouts are the best sort of affirmation. Wonderful post, Barb.
Kathy said…
Clearly, I'm not "deep" enough to read your blog anymore!

Becca said…
Oh I have no idea why we are here or what we are supposed to accomplish and sometimes the repetition kills me. Other times It's fine. I have no wise words other than to say I feel exactly the same way=
Liz in Ink said…
"There is nothing as lonely as an eighteen year old college freshman whose world has just been shaken to its core and who is out of chocolate and sitting in the guest room of her parents' house."

Lord, aint that the truth. I've been there and it doesn't get much darker. I REALLY wish I would've known other people were in the same place. That's what I wish for my girls. Not that they not have the experiences, but that they don't feel terrified and ashamed and alone while they're having them.

This is a wonderful post, Barb, and not a small thing at all. I'm pretty sure God would agre...
Susan said…
I understand the desire to be a worl changer. I thought I would be when I was young, but mostly I have changed the world by adding 3 new individuals to it.

I have those moments of great clarily and confusion, too. I always figure if I can laugh and love and enjoy those rushes of joy brought on by the world - that is enough to keep me going.

Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Ditto on the beautiful photo, Barb.

May I say something in defense of pseudo-intellectual young fraudsters? First, they're young. And young people can be forgiven for coming across hoary old ideas and believing them to be new and fresh. Plus, young people in college really don't yet know very much, but they are under pressure to appear more confident than they may truly be of their own ideas. And that's okay. Breaking out of the box isn't easy.
Mary Ellen said…
I love this post. I just read it twice. You really got to the core of what a lot of people are feeling, I bet.

You're right about the little things, and doing them with grace and love. That's what I focus on when I'm going through tough times. Or at least I try.
Anonymous said…
Thank you, Barb.
I am in the midst of the collegiate existential angst (and recurrent depression) that you captured so beautifully in this post. As miserable as it is to suffer like this and to know that the feelings come back years later with the same poignancy, I have found a deep sense of comfort and reassurance in bearing witness to your experience--to your suffering, if I may be so bold as to call it that. In short, I feel that I have been brought back to my Self by the knowledge that we are never alone, even in feeling alone, and that bearing loving witness to others' similar suffering can provide both the purpose and significance that together comprise the meaning that we so desperately seek.
Thanks again, and God bless!
Anonymous said…
Hey I like your post !