I wonder how common it is for people to ask themselves whether they made any significant contributions to humankind during the course of their lives? The answer could ruin an otherwise perfectly acceptable life-long mood. But the ruinous nature of the response depends not only on what one did (or did not) accomplish, but on one’s desires or expectations about one’s “legacy.” If I have been under no illusion that my life “matters,” confirmation that it did not would be of no particular concern. But if I believe everyone has the obligation to make lasting contributions of one kind or another, failure to do so could be devastating. On the other hand, if I had created a successful vaccination against cancer, I might consider it a big deal, whether or not I believe everyone should leave a positive legacy. I have explored some of these questions before and have had conversations about the questions and some of the answers. Invariably, even in the absence of any tangible contributions to humankind, someone will have said something to the effect that, “You may never know how much of a positive influence you might have had on some people in your live…” That’s the “fix” for someone who feels like he is a failure because he has done nothing of consequence. Hmm. But, then, it might be true, yes? Anything is possible.
Given the choice between: 1) detonating an explosion to bring down an old building and 2) creating an extremely intricate silver and gold wire sculpture, which would I choose? Those options are absurd; they make no sense. But sometimes we are faced with nonsensical options; do you prefer butter with your television viewing or do you hear the sound of raindrops hitting the big time? Incongruity frustrates us, but it can make us laugh. Or it can exacerbate our disappointments, turning moderate annoyance to white-hot rage. The effects of incompatible ideas running headlong into one another are difficult to accurately predict. People who understand those difficulties avoid betting the horses or sitting at the blackjack table. People who think all predictions must eventually come true tend to join Gamblers Anonymous when it’s too late—when everything worth losing has been lost.
Let me look through the lens of a kaleidoscope and I will be lost almost instantly. Peering into that lens, I enter a chaotic world of brilliantly colored, rapidly changing geometric shapes and designs. Regardless what was on my mind the instant before my eyes land on that psychedelic mindscape, nothing but colors and shapes matter as soon as I plunge into that calamity of color. If ever I get news that a nuclear blast is about to annihilate planet Earth, staring into a kaleidoscope’s lens will be sufficiently distracting to me to keep me happy and curious until the end. Adults should not be so easily amused by kaleidoscopes, though I am not sure why I think that. I suspect it is for the same reason that adults have no business being awestruck by spectacular sunrises or sunsets. We’re just too mature for such childishness. Adults should be content to wallow in worry about taxes, healthcare, and the likelihood that all the world’s children will grow up to be chain-smoking welfare cheats.
At what point does childhood end and adulthood begin? Where is the razor-sharp line that separates unmitigated joy from shrugging acceptance? My immediate answer is that there is no such line and there never was…but then I realize there must be such a line, at least for some people. They are the people who seem to have made an abrupt transition from carefree child to über-responsible adult in the time it takes for a hummingbird’s heart to beat. I think something awful must trigger that instantaneous transformation. Something so overwhelmingly distressing or painful or depressing that all the light in the universe suddenly went dark and dull. Just…BAM! From cheerful giggles to mournful wails and endless sobs, in the blink of an eye.
I do not remember how old I was when my oldest brother gave me a book full of images of M.C. Escher’s art. I think it must have been sometime around the time Escher died. Maurits Cornelis Escher died within weeks of my high school graduation. When I received the book is immaterial. I was immediately taken with Escher’s unique way of looking at the world…and representing the world uniquely with his extraordinary graphic art. Escher blended imagination with reality and he mixed architecture with conjecture. His mind allowed him to see what others do not see. His hands (at the urging of his mind) presented what he saw in ways that allowed the rest of us a glimpse into his creativity. Escher’s art proved that the impossible is readily achievable; all it takes is the willing suspension of dead-certain practicality. I think I still have that thin, brown, hard-cover book. I hope I do. I feel a need to take a good look at how easily one can accomplish the impossible.
Time moves far faster than a clock’s hands. That is very difficult to understand.