Living Above The Trees
There are quite a few old, large trees that cover my backyard. But near one side, next to a wooded lot, they create a circular opening where the view of the night sky is completely open. It looks a bit like the aperture of a camera and it provides a kind of physical barrier between my life below, on the ground, and the life going on above the tree line, up in the sky, beyond Earth, in the cosmos.
Sometimes, at night, I sit out back and nurse a drink, staring upwards towards that other life going on far, far away from my own here on Earth, in North America, in central Tennessee. Below that tree line represents my life and all its wonders and ambitions, worries and fears, plans, triumphs and failures. Above the tree line…just stars and the cosmos and the universe going on about its long business of expansion and explosion, creation and destruction.
Off to the side, I can see the road cutting through the woods in front of our cabin. Occasionally, I can see cars passing by, headlights briefly hitting me and moving on. These people are all going about the business of the life we have all constructed for ourselves, traveling through my little slice of existence, briefly, at about 35 miles per hour, up a winding road and out of site.
So, in this picture there are three worlds. My world here, below the trees with my family, friends and neighbors. This is what occupies my mind day in and day out. The second world is above the trees, the big world, the old world, the one that doesn’t give a damn about my world or my stuff or my life. It just is and always has been. At least for the last 13.8 billion years or so.
The third is the world on the road, reflecting back at me my own seemingly pointless hurriedness. My own coming and going everyday to help me and my family have the life we want here, in this place. The road, the cars, the right turn I take every morning on my way to work, those all represent the motion and repetition of my life’s needs.
Sitting in my chair under the trees in our backyard provides this unique visual of all 3 layers at once. It’s kind of like a big cosmic joke. I can see just how small I am in the oceans of time staring back at me from above, but I can also see all the small things I cherish in my own world. My family is inside, just a few feet away. My Bernese Mountain Dog, Louie, is lying next to me.
So, the question I often wrestle with and have from time to time for the majority of my life is… with such a limited amount of time on Earth, why spend any time at all doing something as trivial as going to work?
Why do I spend the time I do on making money? Because that time adds up and seems to be something I’m obsessed with. What meaning could that have when filtered through the lens of that world above the trees? That world that seems to be not-so-subtly telling me that there are bigger possibilities with this thing called life, right in front of me.
I realize this sounds defeatist. It’s an existential crisis. When my seventeen-year-old self registered for college and marked “Philosophy” as his intended degree, I know this question plagued him as it does me today, eighteen years later.
There is this reoccurring realization that my time is extremely short and perhaps best spent in the pursuit of joy and love and meaning, rather than constructing a life that costs time, or the money I make with my time, to maintain itself. However, no matter how clear my thoughts might be about this, sitting in the evening in my chair, the next morning I always wake up and go about a new day. I’m aware that the night before I experienced some minor level of epiphany but this new day time version of me has no time for that shit.
Growing up, I would dig through philosophy books from the library or books about other ways of life I bought at punk rock shows. This one had a particular impact on me. Now, I can just go down an internet rabbit hole and spend hours seeing how other people have managed different ways of going about work and life. The amount of inspiring and motivating and often heavy sales pitch garbage content out will make your eyes gloss over.
I’m not trying to add to that here. I don’t have a solution for you. If you’re like me and these kinds of curiosities make themselves at home in your head, setting up shop and snacking on your emotional instability from time to time, then you’ll have to face them yourself.
But I do have one small piece of advice: It’s important to ask the questions of yourself from time to time and slow down long enough to at least feel them before moving on. It’s important to wonder. Even if that wonder doesn’t lead to any change or make you turn on, tune in and drop out. It’s important to be awake, whatever that may mean to you.
For me, I try my best to keep my head above that tree line as much as possible.