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Life on California's beautiful Central Coast

Everything is Meaningless – or is it?

everythingI got a text message from my friend Em today. She was concerned about the “Everything is Meaningless” image on my Facebook profile header. She wrote: “Etling what’s up with your post that everything is meaningless. That’s not like you!”

I replied, a little casually, “it’s Art!” and promised to tell her more when I see her next. But I wasn’t surprised by her reaction, because I know that running around espousing the belief that Everything is Meaningless is probably going to get me into trouble at some point.

Let’s see if I can write my way out of it.

First of all, the artist who created the print above is named Patrick Casey. Originally, it was a hand-painted woodcut. Now it’s a print, and I do not know how many of them exist. This one was bought for me by my brother Will and sister-in-law Abigail, and it hangs in my living room. They have the same print in their home in Echo Park.

The first time I saw their print I fell instantly in love with it. First, the imagery immediately drew me in. The colors and the texture, the loons and the canoe. Those who know me a little know that my family on my dad’s side came from Wisconsin (Brokaw) and Michigan (Detroit) by way of North Carolina, so this upper Midwestern woods experience runs in my blood. My grandmother’s parents had a little cabin at a place called Payment Lake. It was in the middle of a birch tree forest, with a tiny dock and an equally tiny rowboat to catch sunfish in. There were loons on the lake that cried haunted calls at night. A beaver dam blocked one end. We went there once, when I was about eight.  This is the first place I remember ever falling in love with. We caught fish, my great-grandmother cleaned them. We picked wild berries in the woods. My dad showed us how to make a (miniature) birch bark canoe. There was a faded red patterned camp tablecloth, stuck permanently to the table. It was real and perfect and felt like a place in a novel.

I have had many days in my life where I do believe fervently that everything is meaningless. Every day, I believe that every THING is meaningless. I have never wanted material possessions to define my life. Yes, I like having nice things and work hard for them.  But if you took them all away today, and I still had the love of my family and friends and the ability to write words well, and my people were all OK and not hurt or hungry, that would be fine. I have two strong legs and a brain. I could get from place to place somehow and figure out the rest – where to sleep, what to eat, how to live – day to day. It would be hard, but it could be done.

But if Everything is Meaningless, that means that nothing, not my hysterical laughing fits with my dear friends, not the hours of running on the beach, not falling in love, whether for the first time or the third or the next, means a damn thing. Right?

Maybe. That isn’t how I’ve worked it out in my head. One day in Kings Canyon a long time ago my mother said to my father: “What do you believe in? I don’t believe in anything.”

And my father replied: “I believe in you.”

This so perfectly defines my parents and it is this pivotal moment that has a lot to do with who I am.

Yesterday on my run at 6 a.m. there were two people sleeping on the edge of the Coal Oil Point bluff top in sleeping bags. They looked so peaceful. Their heads were tilted towards each other, and they were fast asleep, out in the open air. The waves were crashing on the beach beneath them.  It was a moment. It immediately became a memory. It was everything, it was meaningless, yet it affected me profoundly. For that one second, all I could see was two people trusting each other and the world not to hurt them, and nothing else mattered.

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1 Comment»

  Steve Lakey wrote @

We can choose our own meanings to anything, including the phrase “Everything is Meaningless”! 🙂


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