Mysterious significance

I’m sitting at the table where they used to sit, looking at the large variety of big, beautiful trees outside the window they used to look through.  They’ve died, but I’m here now looking at the trees they used to look at, the trees they planted.  All the things they left behind evoke in me a sadness, not only because they’re no longer here to enjoy those things, but because I feel almost as if I should refrain from enjoying them, perhaps in honor of their memory.

Certainly, I don’t expect people to last longer than their belongings, longer than trees, longer than it’s time for them to last.  So what is it that’s so difficult to accept in walking around a houseful of coffee cups, pots, pans, tables and chairs that they used for over fifty years, and now all those happily- and well-used things are old and still.  They’ve seen their best days, all the dishes and hutches and lamps and beds.  Now they’re deserted, all the laughter and activities and conversations around them that gave them a life of their own are gone.

It’s as if I feel all the things people left behind in death are sacred, should be protected, but how?  Why?  It’s not practical that these things become sacred and protected.  So it’s nothing I act on, yet I nevertheless feel a tug toward a need to honor the dead on this insignificant level, as if the preservation of their things, the only tangibleness we now have of them, is somehow freezing time for them, as if life shouldn’t go on, as if something should stop to mark the momentous event of a life ending.

But the dead are no longer here to care, so why would we care but for a few valuables and keepsakes?  And in those keepsakes we can keep as many memories of them as alive as we can.  So it is that all the things they’ve left behind are dispersed to family, and the rest, the majority, are given or sold to strangers.  So it is that pieces of people’s lives get thrown away or scattered, as pieces of themselves, all the pieces, all the things that they chose carefully to buy and loved having and using.

That I must keep reminding myself people’s lives are not their things and throwing away their things is not throwing away their lives, I think is tied to the bigger issue of the significance of a life.  We have loved and highly regarded people, yet as soon as they die, memories of them begin to fade.  Our lives are flashes in the pan.

All lives are significant to people close to them, but when you zoom out and look at those same lives, they seem so insignificant.  They were born, they went to school, they got married, worked, raised kids, retired, died.  Others were born to do a little more, maybe in government or entertainment and the like, and therefore they may be remembered more widely.  But the swiftness, the callousness of coming and going, and the pit in the stomach, the melancholy, the sense of futility it causes, is a haunting thing.

At the same time, at the very core of ourselves is a thing that tells us we are significant.  And for most of us, when the voice of that thing, the feeling of it, is up against what we see with our eyes, there’s a major collision.  We don’t appear significant on the grand scale of things, yet something tells us we are.  This sends most of us on a mission to find out what’s real.  Are we or are we not significant?

Because we all want to be significant, many of us search for religions that tell us we are.  Some can stop at the being told part and be perfectly happy all the way to the grave.  Others don’t feel quite right about stopping just there and continue drilling down further.  Some find a different definition of significance that suits them a little better, albeit still a bit tight around the chest, but it’s good enough.  Others end up full circle at the thing at the core of themselves and find that it links to a greater thing, the thing they were looking for all along.

We all have to find our way in this regard and that’s what life becomes…any one life becomes the answer to the big question, “Are we significant?

What new insights regarding life did the death of someone close to you give you?

Have you heard the message within yourself that says you are significant?  If so, where do you feel that it comes from?

What answer to the question, “Are we significant?” does your life as a whole give you to date?

12 responses to “Mysterious significance

  1. i am thinking as i write this. something that i don’t allow myself to do before the first cup of tea settles in (rather unsettles my being). i have had enough people die around me. people who were close. people who were merely acquaintances. some known just by face.

    and each time i have felt this overwhelming feeling of insignificance that you talk about. it humbles me and keeps my feet on the ground. and i look back on my interactions with so many people in my life. and i wonder then, if they would remember me, or be affected by the news of my death?

    would i be “oh that guy who came to our store everyday and chatted up with my dog” or would i be “i really loved him and should have told him once” or “i hated him and am glad he’s dead” or simply “who?”

    our lives are as we make them. from where i come from, there’s a lot of stress on self-actualisation. now i don’t know what means. all i know is that we have forever been taught (by religion and culture) that you are born insignificant. so don’t feel proud. don’t be vain. go out and be nice and gentle with people who need you. have a kind word and a helping hand. and you will soon find your significance. and even if the world doesn’t understand it you will find your worth in your head.

    zen like almost. but we don’t lead our lives like that do we? i try and fail frequently unable to comprehend the bigness of it all. swayed by excitement and lust we continue making complete fools of ourselves. sometimes for years.

    some find significance through a reason – justifying their existence. their need to be a part of this world. and hence go about their lives in a certain way. i have seen people immerse themselves into social causes and for the homeless. ask them and they say, “if i wont, who will?” that’s their need. to be needed in return.

    as far as whether i am significant or not. i don’t know. but yes, i do try and touch people as i go along. in more ways than one ;)

  2. Life is full of silly things – like the fact that objects that seem inane and pointless last hundreds or thousands of years more than actually beings, full of complexities and wonderful qualities and that we care so much about. Scaringly enough, the objects last more than our memories. And furthermore, they gain a different significance when they’re attached to memories and realities that are now behind us.
    It must be really hard to deal with those objects.

    Lately I’ve been more aware of death and of its main characteristic – being so final. I don’t think much about the significance or non-significance of our lives. I think we’re born with the “illusion” that we’re special. Perhaps growing up is realizing that it’s not exactly that way, we are just another person, another grain of sand. But I don’t think that robs us of any significance.

  3. Phish: So nice to have you back for a visit. You did remarkably well without the full roar of caffeine ;-)

    Interesting that the overwhelming feeling of insignificance does something so gracious as to keep you humble. That’s good! Very good. It does the opposite to me. I feel a buffered mixture of angry and indignant…you know, the arrogant, shake-your-fist-at-God kind of thing…only these days I do an extremely weak tea (you started it) version of that. I’m so much more at peace now, having mellowed over the years with various readings and spiritual teachings.

    And on that, I love the religions that originated in your country! Hinduism, the Advaita school of thought, is what made the most momentous, most positive impact on me, Ramesh Balsekar’s teachings especially. But no, you’re right, for the most part we don’t live like that… It’s a constant struggle being the observer of our thoughts with the loud-mouth ego, a.k.a. the chattering monkey mind, dancing around in a tutu, throwing confetti everywhere, Look at me! Watch this! Are you watching? C’mon, c’mon, over here, no here!

    Yes, maybe this goes on for years, but that’s a key component of the learning process, n’est-ce pas? Look how far we come each time we emerge from one of our painfully Piscean scuffles! ;-)

    Devil Mood: “Life is full of silly things” And how! We are so caught up in, so mesmerized by what we can see and touch because it’s there! right there to be had! that we begin to make gods out of stuff. And a keepsake from someone who has died may begin as just that, but by the time our imaginations have gone crazy and back again, the keepsake is attributed with all kinds of erroneous, grandiose thoughts and stories, a legend we can say we were a part of. This is another of those basic human things. I’m aware of it but I still can get caught up in the limitedness of tangibles.

    Interesting that you don’t think much about significance or non-significance, either way. That’s neat. It suggests to me a healthy, balanced view, a stable state of mind. I loved your whole second paragraph, actually, and am still thinking about it. First I find it funny that I don’t think of death as being final (well, for the body, yes) yet I’m concerned with significance during this lifetime! What then would it matter if this wasn’t the end of the line, eh? On non-finality, we get our pick with religions: reincarnation, rejoicing in heaven, and the like! LOL! But it does bug me somehow, nevertheless. Sometimes I’m all Zen and other times I’m railing against my speck-of-dustness! Sometimes I don’t see how being a grain of sand could possibly not rob us of significance and other times I can see the truth of existence. That seems about state of mind and acceptance vs. non-acceptance/fear. Again, I think all a part of the process of getting to where we’re supposed to go!

  4. I should correct myself. When I said death was final I meant it from the perspective of us losing other people. It seems final. You know that in this life you’ll never see them again. But I’m confident (this is something odd to be confident about) that we’ll see them afterwards, wherever and whatever that is. I’m pretty confident actually. lol

    Concerning my own death, well that’s even harder to consider final, simply because mentally it’s impossible for me to accept that I will ever cease to be. Do you find it possible? Whenever I think about this, my head starts having knots. ;)

    Maybe I don’t think about significance because I didn’t reach that stage yet because believe me, I’m not exactly a stable person. But reading your reply made me realize the importance of that question – believing we’re significant even though we’re a grain of sand. I think that’s it. That’s the heart of the matter :)

    Once again your post fitted the SS prompt even before it came out. It’s about time machines and how some things take us back in time!

  5. i think about death all the time. sometimes i buy something and think “this may live more than me”. The only way i have found around this is to get rid of things now and then. It makes me feel lighter. I used to accumulate things and now the opposite is true.
    I am significant because I love and I am loved. Nothing else will remain, and for me this makes life worthwhile. I cannot find comfort in anything else. Not even art, art is only a metaphor, a mediator.

  6. Devil Mood: I like that. Confident. Me, too, in that respect.

    But the issue of one’s own death…that is a tough one to think about. I love how you put it—head knots! I think that’s what I call being all balled up, but your term provides a better graphic! Here’s how my thinking goes: I know I’m not going to live forever, in fact I might as well start getting used to saying “die,” I know I’m going to die, and yet there is still a part of me that doesn’t fully believe it. Logic vs. the survival mechanism, maybe. And the survival mechanism’s perspective seems to be majorly warped, fairytale warped, as in they all lived happily ever after. We hear stories of people who’ve had a brush with death or are otherwise able to accept their own mortality and how it gives them a second lease on life. When I try to imagine being close to death, then being given a reprieve, and then feeling ecstatically grateful, I get the head knots again, I get in that weird skirting-the-issue denial place. And it’s actually maddening because I’d like to face the death issue head-on, to die before I die so to speak, so I could experience free and clear, fearless, no-holds-barred, full-of-life living! I try to imagine what dying might be like so I’ll be less freaky about it, so every once in a great while at bedtime I lie there and try to imagine that I’m dying and I wait to come face to face with death to see what it really looks like, what it really is. I’ve been in the hospital before for an operation and have been well cared for and given calming drugs that made me feel sooo nice, so I try to imagine I’m lying there feeling that nice and accepting. But I still will not face death. Head knots, beating around the bush, denial, the whole lot! ;-)

    What you said about significance I think is the heart of it indeed. I feel that may be like what I described, the feeling at the core of us, not anywhere near the head! that tells us we are important somehow in the scheme of things, that otherwise we wouldn’t be here. There must be a reason and so we look for it as we live our lives. And then there are those disgustingly lucky ones who were born with a sense of purpose. I knew a guy who, as a small boy, knew with resolution what he was going to be when he grew up and that is what he became. That was his mission and his mission was his sense of importance, yet from a bird’s eye view, he was just another grain of sand!

    Yes, I could’ve used this post for SS #100, for sure! But again, I opted for the brain exercise! :-D

  7. Chloe: that whole paragraph is so nice, so strong and sure and comforting. It’s like a package deal of Ahhhh!, a warm smile, and a heart glow! <3

  8. I’m glad you opted for the brain exercise. :)
    Oh those people with purposes are simply impossible! lol

    I have enough knots in my head as it is without thinking much about my own death. I’ll get there (to both the thinking and the drying) ;)
    I feel the same way Chloe does about things – the less I have, the lighter I feel.

  9. Devil Mood: I’m glad you’re glad! (you always say the nicest things!) And not so much your typo by itself, but your explanation for it, was so fun! I had such a good laugh! :-D

  10. My mother lived with me the last 8 or so years of her life; 5 of them battling cancer. I was her caretaker and her youngest. She was such a part of me that being without her seemed inconceivable. The day she passed away I entered a depression that did not lift for many, many years. I could not bear to throw anything of hers out (whatever was left after it had been dispersed amongst family members). What did I keep and what did I want? Her hairbrush. The one she used every day and the one she had had since as far back as I could remember. It just reminded me so much of her. I remember every once in a while I would smell it looking for her scent and trying to find that sensory connection to her that I so desperately needed. As with all things, the day came that her brush no longer carried a part of her and moved on sooner than I did; yet, I still had her room. It took five years for me to finally dismantle it and make it into an office. The only thing I can say is that for me I did not give myself a time span in what to do with her things. Eventually, I would part with them and I was going to do it on my own time, in my own way, in the way that I could handle it. When someone we love so deeply leaves us, the things they leave behind are the only remnants of their memory we have left. Thank you so much for reminding me once again of this…a memory so dear to my heart. And, I am liking your blog much…I will be placing you on my sidebar forthwith!

  11. Rebecca: Ah yes, the sniffing of the brush! With us it was a slip. “This is her perfume! Smell it!” “Yes! Put it in a bag and seal it!” We put it in a Ziploc® double zipper quart-size bag and sealed it. Doing that made the smell go away all the faster! A message from the Universe: in the sickness of your grasping will you all the more lose what you desire. OK. Got it. Oh Lord but death is such a weird concept! I wish I got that, too, everyday not just some days!

    I’m thrilled that you hung around here for awhile and that you found this piece to enjoy. You just go right on and make yourself at home. What’s mine is no more mine than it is yours! When I was at your place awhile ago, my writing drug buzzer went off so it’s unanimous, mutual and all that… I look forward to seeing the next feed notice for your site and clicking on over to see what you’ve come up with.

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