Choose Your own Adventure or The Meaning Behind Christmas
Surprisingly in the midst of the cold and the darkness, I am surprisingly happy. Ironically it is in the thick of the battle with the pure fury of the possibility of total annihilation that I feel alive.
It is a weird thing in the soul I guess. It is probably a survival mechanism. Or call is some thing of hope or resilience. That even though under the weight of real struggle—the ever- encroaching possibility that my elderly mother will die of her cancer, the ever-exploding realization that my daughter is borderline, the deep-driving fury and resentment for marrying a do-nothing narcissist, the solidifying verdict that my so-called friends are non-existent or so engrossed with their own lives to offer any support or so far away to make any relationship moot, the daily drudgery of dealing with deranged coworkers who do not even say hello because of their masculine superiority /inferiority and the daily exhaustion of dysfunctional teens whose parents explode and scapegoat me for their problems . Even with the soul-harrowing, knifing despair that maybe there is no reason to life, that the randomness of disaster and the banality of evil exist everywhere, that life is but a passing shadow that offers only a filthy rag to wipe away the blood. Even with the full knowledge that mankind is a bloodthirsty greedy irrational perverted mass whose only goal is to pivot its own power and needs over others, that it’s a dog-eat-dog world with only tiny glimpses of beauty. Even with the fear and the trembling and the shit-in-your pants terror that maybe it is all a bunch of atoms tied together and we are nothing but recycled parts, consciousness a mixed blessing and a mere after-effect of a brain with 80 billion nerve cells, even with the coming of the deep dank dark of the grave—even with all that, I can hope against hope that there is meaning to all this.
It is a most strange thing really. Sort of like diving into the pit of Mordor, diving into the abyss, and in the deepest darkest bottom, recovering the ring. That you can’t be a hero of your own life without plunging into the depths. It is the darkness the deepest ring of hell that enfolds the gold, it is in the belly of despair that the light that shines out. The treasure that takes you aback. The diamond is in the belly of the beast. It is the struggle that gives the meaning to the whole battle, even when on the face of it it is meaningless. The struggle to find meaning and keep it is what gives significance to this thing , this whole gory filthy disappointing thing we live every day.
That thing that keeps you alive in the thick of the battle is faith or hope or resilience. It is the very mechanism for meaning-making and It works in mysterious ways.
I cannot really describe how it works except through Hollywood examples. It’s like the scene in Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark when he has to walk through the chasm to get to the clock. It seems that if he takes a step he will plunge to certain death. He holds his heart against his better logic, he closes his eyes and takes a leap of faith into the abyss. And lo and behold, a foothold appears. He takes another step and whoa! another step revealed. Those stone pinions that provided the stepping stones to his crossing the abyss instead of vaulting into it is what faith is. And this is not to simplify or reduce the thing to a mere wish-fulfilling fantasy.
Or it is like another scene in Labyrinth when Sarah is falling through the bottomless well and falling fast. When from the walls of the black well, a thousand white gloved hands (the helping hands) appear, grab her and stop her fall. “Which way?” the helping hands ask impolitely. “Up or down? Cmon cmon, we haven’t got all day. Where’s your big decision? Which way do you want to go?” She chooses down as that’s the way she is pointing anyway, and they proceed to pass her on limb by limb in the opposite direction until she climbs out of the whole thing. I think there is something in that scene that speaks to the choice of the human will to decide the path for itself. That perhaps we have more choice in the way our destiny plays out or rather we create our own destiny by the way we choose to write it.
I remember when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. There were these series of books titled “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Basically you would read a chapter and at the end of it, you would have to make a choice. If you chose one way to handle the problem, you would be directed to read a certain chapter; if you chose a different route, you would be directed to read another. For every chapter, you had to make a choice. The ending of the book depended on the sum of the choices you took to get there. In some books the endings were so very far apart that you would wind up dead if you took one course or alive and happy if you took another. Faith and the mindful deliberate living of life as if it does have meaning functions like the plot mechanisms in the Choose Your Own Adventure books. It was the sum total of those choices, one choice led to another and then another, and then another, that creates a life worth living.
There could be something to this in the fabric of the universe. From the little I have gleaned from quantum physics, there is something to be said about how you see the experiment or rather the fact of what you are looking for changes the essence of your experiment. The very on what hypothesis you are framing for impacts the results of the experiment. So you will find that your very existence as an “objective overseer” changes the equation. This might be the reason why sometimes light acts like a particle and in other experiments like a wave.
The paradoxical nature of the universe as seen by quantuum theory was explored in the thought experiment terms Schrodinger’s cat. When Einstein and his colleagues Posensky and Rosen posited the theory, it brought up the bizarre nature of quantum superpositions, in which a quantum system such as an atom or photon can exist as a combination of multiple states corresponding to different possible outcomes. “In other words, a particle can exist and not exist at once that can lead to different possible outcomes. The prevailing theory, called the Copenhagen interpretation, said that a quantum system remained in this superposition until it interacted with, or was observed by, the external world, at which time the superposition collapses into one or another of the possible definite states. The EPR experiment showed that a system with multiple particles separated by large distances could be in such a superposition.” (wikipedia.)
The idea that the outcome of an event, the final ending to a story, depends on the interpretation and the interaction of the observer which can change its course is mind-blowing. Could there be more to human will? Can it change the unfurling of the possibilities in the universe? Can something be and not be? Can an ending be happy and tragic at once?
The complex interplay of the gazillions of choices compounded over millennia while at the same time diminishing the importance of the iota of will that is yours fortifies it. It is imposisile to say that your existence does not matter one way or another; the fact that you are, that you exist, has introduces another vector, another variable, another curve in the way the universe moves. It is hard to know the effect of your not existing would have on the universe, but the very fact that you exist, has altered the equation forever. I think that was the point in that classic Christmas flick, It’s a Wonderful Life. For better or for worse, the unraveling of the events in the universe could not be as they are without the simple fact of your being here.
The power of choice to fabricate meaning, almost miraculously like pulling yourself up from your bootstraps during a free fall or creating the planks for the bridge between the abyss as you walk it, that gives me hope this Christmas season. I do not think I can separate my idea of hope and resilience from the Person of Christ. For me, He is the Highest Poet, the meaning maker par excelleance. And if I believe in the mechanism of the Holy Spirit, I have to give credit where credit is due that this thing of feathers called Hope, it must come from that Dove. I can’t put my finger on it. But it never ceases to surprise me that in the times I struggle to subdue my passions and stay obedient to the strict fast that as a form of sacrifice and willing obedience to the laws of a higher power, that I am rewarded with the buoyancy of faith.
In contrast to the nihilism and superficial contentment of my contemporaries, I am pinion with the hope that true faith brings. It is this hope—that my life is not meaningless, not just that it has meaning in spite of the darkness, death, and worse of all, the abyss, but precisely because of the death and darkness and the abyss. It is the very wrestling with the dark that weaves the light. I feel like that. A fisher of the depths ungrounding nuggets of gold to bring to the surface. I have more power than what I know. Because I have the will to change the ending of the story. I can live to write a happy ending just by the power of my choosing to live it so. That’s the meaning behind Christmas; that’s the meaning of life itself. That it is meaningless unless you give it meaning.