Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Remembering What Is Most Important: A One-Page Reading for the Wedding of My Eldest Son

Today is one of the most important days in the lives of Alex and Kallie -- a day which they will surely remember for the rest of their lives. For the rest of their lives, they may think back and remember the goals and the feelings which they are affirming today.
     When Alex and Kallie first asked me to say something on this occasion -- my first reaction was to feel totally unqualified. Marriage is such a complicated matter, and every marriage is so unique and different -- what could I possibly say? Would I be able to convey some of the important ideas in Orson Scott Card’s great science fiction series, The Song of Earth -- but isn’t that a bit too tricky and complicated for a ten minute talk? However, this issue of remembering what is important in life is one important aspect of the story which even I have some right to talk about..
     Back in 1979, when I started work at the Department of Energy. hoping to help the world solve its energy problems, that too was an important day, a major new start in my life. The new life was extremely complicated ( and still is). I met many people who started out just as idealistic as I was, but had basically become totally lost and distracted by all the many complexities.  I was impressed by the ongoing value of the old saying, “When you’re up to your something in alligators, it’s hard to remember you came here to drain the swamp.”
        As we meet here in a Unitarian Church, I also remember how churches of all kinds  have played such an important role in history, when they gather people together to try to think and remember what is really important, and go back every week to consider how all the decisions of the past week and the coming week should be re-evaluated, regularly, relative to what is really important in the bigger picture of things.
           But what IS really important in the bigger picture of things? Churches and philosophers certainly do not agree on that question. The world is full of theories of ethics which try to deduce logically what is the purpose of life or even whom should rely on if we cannot figure that out for ourselves. After years of studying logic and the brain, I long ago came to appreciate the ongoing truth and importance of some other folk wisdom we should be remembering: that we cannot really satisfy our personal need for meaning and purpose in life, except by relying on what lies inside us. Our deepest emotions define what we really care about, and only the expression of those emotions can allow us to be effective, rational, and successful in the pursuit of happiness.
           But how can we become more in touch, and permanently aware, of those deepest feelingss? How can we avoid being confused by learned hopes and fears, which do not really represent our truest  and most permanent foundation?  Hopes and fears play an important part in our lives, but if we can’t distinguish hopes and fears from our deeper feelings, it becomes hard to make good choices when we face decisions which affect us for years into the future. How can we avoid taking people and situations for granted, and underestimating the significance of possible changes, both for good and for ill, which could affect our most basic feelings and happiness?
  In order to remember these deepest feelings, we do need to put words on them, just to help us remember.  Friedrich Nietzsche once talked about the raw feeling “this good” versus “this bad.” Back in college, in my sophomore year, I used the words “light’ and “dark” -- and remembered how I worried about which system of ethics and politics would end up feeling “dark” versus what would feel like “light.” In Quaker meetings, I found that the term “the light” acquires a depth I did not imagine when I was sophomore -- but it still fit, and I was glad that I had somehow directed my mind into that space. Nowadays, when I sometimes feel like giving up on every major power in this world, and I ask myself where do **I** really choose to stand... I remember an old phrase from the Western mystics, “light, life and love.” It’s not a precise scientific phrase, but somehow it does help me remember what it stands for and remember that I am not going to give up on it ever, period.
Some days, when stress starts to become overwhelming, I do have to remember that my capacity to support what I care about is finite, and that I have to do some “impedance matching,” both for myself and for others, to avoid some kind of breakdown... but I also remember that I always want to be responsible, no matter how tired I get, and will never lapse in remembering what is really important.
     May this marriage become a full expression and vehicle for life, light and love for as long as you both may live!


Comments added:

1. The wedding was on November 10, 2012, in Bedford, Mass.

2. The "neural network" sources most relevant to the above are:

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