The other morning a pert young woman asked me if I was satisfied with my life. It was a tough question to answer because for years I have lived in a blissful state of ignorant complacency.
Had I wished to come across as an old Maine character, I would have spit and said I’d been too busy shoveling last winter’s snow to give the matter any serious contemplation.
But, lowering my eyes, I admitted to a bare-bones existence on one of the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’d never had time to give it any thought.
My answer surprised her, because between 5 a.m. and noon I can still pick up my feet when I walk and can, without conscious effort, emanate seven or eight points of happiness on a scale from one to 10.
Had you asked an old person about the meaning of life, they might have told you that they’d never had time to stop and smell the roses.
But young people are more comfortable with a newspeak that quantifies objectives and projects accountability. They seek out and eliminate gaps in their quality of life in their never-ending journey toward clearly delineated goals. You noticed that I communicate with them in their unique patois.
You may well ask if having measurable goals or thinking about your purpose in life imply affluence and too much free time. Seventy years ago my father was amused by Steinbeck’s description of unhappy wealthy women who visited their doctor for a cure. He told me that the doctor prescribed some healing exercises that approximated the same movements they’d make bending over a washtub scrubbing clothes. And then my father, who was cutting paving blocks in the Long Cove quarry at the time, laughed.
It must be nice to have time to think about the meaning of life and whether or not you have actualized your potential.
Forty years ago, before Internet dating, there were great bevies of people who posted personal ads in newspapers. A student of personal ads in the 1970s soon came to learn that one could “find oneself” by taking moonlit walks on sandy beaches. Although it was never made clear where one would find a long sandy beach on the Maine coast between Pemaquid and Moose Peak.
Back then young Maine beach walkers “found themselves” by moving in small concentric circles, much like an Egyptian ox tied to a water wheel.
How is it possible to live well past one’s allotted three score and ten without realizing that one should sit daily in a sylvan glen, swat mosquitoes and contemplate the meaning of life?
A single person who earns enough to pay an income tax might find time for a profitable bit of meditation every day.
Those who move in the highest circles believe that they have a unique purpose on this earth. And unless they buckle down and spend some serious time with themselves, they might never, alas, discover what that purpose is. Which might be why so many of them with too much free time wring their hands and run about asking their elders if they are truly happy.
Luckily, many of us wake to the sound of a sweet voice that reminds us to carry the wash down to the laundry. And by the time we have breakfast there are already several messages on pieces of white poster paper on the floor (where we will be sure to see them): “Hang Wash” “Get Gas for Mower” “Wear Hearing Aids” “Fix Shower Curtain.”
I have yet to see one that says, “Find Yourself.”
Even with such carefully delineated instruction, one is easily led astray. On the way to the barn to get a tool to fix the shower curtain, you might notice that the sun is shining and it is about time to replace a board that rotted out in the ramp several years ago. So you cheerfully find a new plank, tear out the old one, and replace it. This might take an hour, and by the time you finish you have forgotten why you went out to the barn in the first place.
On the way back to the house you might stop by the garden and weed the carrots. And then someone stops in and you chat with them for an hour. And before they leave another couple of friends show up and by the time you get a chance to warm up your dinner in the microwave it is 2 in the afternoon and you haven’t had a minute to call your own where you could sit down and ask yourself if you are satisfied with your life, even if you wanted to.
Are you old enough to remember a particular comic strip where Dagwood sat at his desk with his face in his hands? Mr. Dithers came in and asked him what he was doing. Dagwood said, “I’ve got to find myself.” Mr. Dithers left the office mumbling, “If he ever does he’s going to be very disappointed.”
The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website: