Saturday, February 27, 2010

Re-Capturing a Moment

But you, you never realized What I could do, stars in your eyes You made it true, while looking at the sky You were searching for something better While the better was right in front of you --Lost Immigrants, “Something Better” All of life is an exercise in economics. See, economics exist for one reason: want. I’m not talking about want in terms of the poor and destitute being in want of food and shelter. I’m talking about the word “want,” as in, “I want that.” Everyone wants something. Or, probably, many somethings. Everyone can have some of those somethings or part of that one big something, but the vast majority of people can’t have everything they want. Really, when it gets right down to it, apparently no one can. Tiger Woods comes immediately to mind… The most insidious thing about want, though, is that we often don’t actually want what we think we want. And no matter what we buy, who we sleep with, or what title we’re awarded, those things don’t serve to satisfy us. They often, in fact, make us far more unhappy by the constant reminder that we can’t fill that hole we so desperately want to fill. I don’t actually want a BMW M3 (well, I mean, I kinda do. Those things are friggin’ sweet. But I don’t exactly think my world will be incomplete without one). What I want is something that’s impossible to find. And not just because it would apparently involve finding a 1996 Chrysler Concorde LXi in 2010 that’s in really good shape and won’t asplode every six months or so. What I actually want is innocence. There was a time in my life when I didn’t fully get the fact that car payments are a pain in the ass. There was a time I believed I’d be able to buy a car I wanted and have it work properly and I really wouldn’t have to worry about paying for it. I can never go back to that point again, though. The reason I can’t go back is simple: I now officially know too much. I miss that innocence. It’s that feeling that the whole world is out there somewhere ahead of you and nothing but nothing will get in the way of your hopes and dreams. It’s that moment of falling in love. You know what I’m talking about. At least, I hope. Those early days, when you find yourself constantly wanting to be in the presence of the most amazing person in the world and, wonder of wonders, that person wants nothing more than to be around you. It’s terrifying, nerve wracking. And then you realize that they’re just as scared as you. So you sit on a couch talking about everything and nothing at all. Then you suddenly realize the sky in the east is getting lighter and you have to get some sleep but you want nothing more than to stay on that couch forever. That’s before you find out that this most wonderful person in the world chews too loudly, holds some frightfully bad opinions on the state of the world and won’t let them go, and doesn’t like dogs. It’s before you meet their parents and wonder just how far the apple falls from the tree. It’s before that first big fight, before the four hundredth time they get pissed at you for something that’s really not that big of a deal. It’s before you have to make that momentous decision: do I stick it out or do I decide to try my luck in the dating roulette game again? How we deal with those moments defines who we are. Do I endlessly put the tough choice off, hoping someone else makes it for me? Do I jump in with both feet and foolishly choose something that’s a bad idea? Do I count up the difficulties and say it’s not worth it? Do I constantly choose to believe that something better exists beyond what I have? Or do I balance the good and the bad and decide to make my stand with a known quantity? As best I can tell, there’s no right and no wrong answer. There are simply varying degrees of good and bad. Committing to the wrong person is just as bad as running from the right. And the scariest thing about knowing the difference between the two is that we so often don’t have the information until a much later point in life than we actually need it. All we can go on in the interim is our hopes for the future and our memories of the past. I find, though, that I get the two confused and try to turn the memories of the past in to the things that will matter in the future. I, in essence, try to constantly re-capture moments that will never appear again. In some cases they’re moments that never actually happened in the first place. Evangelical Christianity didn’t really help me much in figuring this out. If I had a problem I was supposed to “give it up to god.” This meant, literally, praying and saying, “God, this thing is really bugging me. Please fix it for me.” If I felt better after that it meant god was taking care of it. If I didn’t, it meant that I didn’t actually have enough faith to let god sort it all out. Christianity didn’t help me grow up. Hell, it had a vested interest in keeping me immature. Faith like a child wasn’t about the “faith” part so much as the “like a child” bit. We constantly sought “mountaintop experiences.” Those were those moments where there’d be a transcendent connection with the divine, usually on a retreat or missions trip. But it’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain. That return to civilization brought with it the worries of everyday life. That connection to god that was so close would fail. But there was always another retreat, another missions trip, another mountain top. Another chance to say, “This time I won’t lose the feeling.” That’s all the Christianity I knew had to offer. It offered brief, stolen moments of transcendence, the sort of transcendence you can find in the eyes of that still-mysterious new lover, the sort of transcendence that you can find in the leather bucket seats of your first really nice car before the rush has worn off and something has gone catastrophically wrong. The thing is, though, that those moments of transcendence are gone forever once they’ve passed. Such is the nature of things. We can’t freeze the world at a single moment and live there forever, no matter how much we might want to. Many similar moments might occur later on, but no single moment will be the same as the previous. What’s worse, the memories of those great moments gradually fade to the rose and sepia tones of nostalgia, so if we attempt to judge the now by the then the now always comes in second. If we’re smart we realize that’s a good thing. We learn from those moments of greatness. On the bad days they teach us what to look for. On the good days they teach us to hold on and treasure the moment. I learned an awful lot from that 1996 Chrysler Concorde. The sad thing is that I’ll never again be able to see a car the way I saw that car for the first six months I owned it. The happy thing is that I’m now far less likely to make a stupid, uninformed decision when I buy a car in the future. I traded my moment of transcendence for knowledge. I traded innocence for wisdom. And, in the final analysis, I’m a better person for it.* There’s a term for that, I think. It’s called “growing up.” More than that, though, constantly wanting that which you cannot have is deeply frustrating. It’s far, far worse when what you want is fundamentally impossible to find. That’s exactly the quandary that comes from wanting a car not because I want the car, but because I want it to create a feeling that’s no longer accessible. The thing is that we make stupid decisions when we’re innocent. That’s the nature of innocence. The innocent doesn’t yet understand consequence and, therefore, can’t make a proper cost/benefit analysis. Without that life is nothing but a succession of calamities. Such hard-won knowledge can only be gained one way. Faith like a child is highly overrated. Not to mention dangerous. -------------------------- *Which leads to the moment of full disclosure. I know pretty much exactly what I’m doing and I’ve known it since before I wrote the previous post. As of today (February 26th, 2010) I have no debt save my school loans and a couple hundred bucks that’s left on my laptop, on which I have 0% financing through October. I have test driven every car that’s logical to purchase and holds my interest. I don’t actually like the 2010 Sonata as much as I’d hoped, due to the fact that it’s just not that comfortable and the Infinity Premium sound system in the Limited is weak. I had an Infinity Premium system in my Concorde that was way better and my home-made Cerwin-Vega/Clarion combo in the Cavalier is actually better. This matters to me. That leaves me with the Subaru Legacy/Outback, the Honda Accord EX-L, and the 2011 Sonata. The 2011 Sonata is way better than the 2010 but still butt ugly from the front and less comfortable than the Subaru or Honda options. The interesting thing is that the Accord is more comfortable than the Legacy/Outback and cheaper. So the choice is really a no-brainer. That means that somewhere around July I’ll buy a new Honda Accord EX-L with a really nice down payment and be happy with my car for ten years or so. This is a good thing. But, in the process, I’ve managed to come up with a bizarre, convoluted thought experiment, which is fun, too. For me, at least. Big A would probably like to differ…


OneSmallStep said...

**But it’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain.**

I really like this line. It reminds me of a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, where a Starfleet admiral has just visited Commander Sisko to encourage/order him to convince the Maquis to stand down from attacking the Federation. When the Admiral leaves, Sisko starts ranting to his second in command, Major Kira, about how difficult it is to understand the Maquis situation when one lives on perfect Earth -- best line of the rant: "It's easy to be a saint in paradise."

Michael Mock said...

Nicely written.

My wife and I have a theory about Great Life Lessons (also known as "learning experiences"):

The one you need most invariably suck the hardest.