Image and Word | My Thoughts on Life
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My Thoughts on Life

  |   Word Column
We’ve asked some of our contributors to give us their take on life. These will cover philosophies, spirituality, and some very personal viewpoints. Our first in line is Bruce Smith. This is an incredible short piece, mostly because atheism so often gets framed by the negative. So many people consider it a definition of “what you are not”, but Bruce gives us a very positive outlook on this way of seeing the world. A must-read.

Thoughtful Walk

Photo by James Gathright

When I was a kid, there was a shallow hole in the sidewalk in front of our house.  When the men first laid the concrete for the sidewalk, something must have fallen into the cement.  Not much later, the rain washed it away, leaving a small divot in its place.

This shallow receptacle became my palette.  I would fill it with water, grab a stick, and paint lines on the sidewalk.  It didn’t take much time for the lines to fade away, leaving me with a fresh canvas, and I would start all over again.  It was sort of a natural Etch A Sketch.

I consider this a precursor to my love of the arts, all of them: music, drawing, painting, film, photography, mixed-media, small weird creatures made out of clay, elaborate 3D printings, books, writing, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, programming (which is an art form, by the way), web design, architecture both bold and subtle, theater, and so on to infinity.

These things have enriched my life immensely.  Among them, the TV shows, movies, and books I gorged on, taught me to dream.  More importantly, they taught me to actively pursue those dreams.

Art, as it often does, inspired me to create more art.  I wrote songs, poems, and books.  I drew, designed and programmed, and I found that creating art brought me even more joy than experiencing art.

But somebody should have given me a warning.  In fact, every Flashdance-like movie, book, or show should come with a set of disclaimers that remind you that there are no guarantees.  Even if you do everything right and try your hardest, circumstances may work against you and prevent you from setting out to do what you accomplished.  You may create brilliant things and then die without your genius being recognized, like Edgar Allen Poe or Vincent Van Gogh, or you may die while trying to accomplish something great, like Amelia Earhart.  But more likely, your failure will be less noticeable, in a truly pathetic way.  I’m just saying; those are the odds. They’re not in your favor.  Even if you do succeed financially or you want to become famous and you manage to pull it off, there will always be people who will take pot shots at you just because they can.  Suddenly, you might even find yourself in the Hall of Shame alongside Mel Gibson and Michael Jackson, and you have no idea how it happened.  “Huh?” you say, staring around at all the flashing cameras.

And so it is, that if there ever was a quote that sums up my feelings about life, it’s this one from drummer and lyricist Neil Peart: “I feel the sense of possibilities; I feel the wrench of hard realities.”

Those two things, possibilities and realities, came together in a funny way in my life.  In pursuit of my dream to become a published author, I worked on a philosophical book for years.  In the process of writing it, I re-evaluated my own worldview, and ended up becoming an atheist.  The pursuit of possibilities had led me to a hard reality.

As a result, no longer did I feel that everything was possible; I only felt that some things were possible.  The upside of this is that it allowed me to cross several items off my bucket list such as “become immortal,” and “travel back in time and fix all my stupid mistakes.”

Here’s the deal.  In and of itself, the fact that I’m an atheist tells you very little about me.  It certainly doesn’t define me.  It only tells you one thing: that I don’t think there is a God.  That’s it.  It doesn’t tell you if I’m moral, if I’m funny, if I have gray hair, if I like peanut M&M’s, or if I have a shoe fetish (which I don’t, by the way. Thanks for asking.)

If telling you that I’m an atheist doesn’t mean diddley squat, I’m not sure that telling you that I prefer to be called an existentialist will help to clarify anything, but there it is anyway.  I once read a book on existentialism to learn what it was all about, and when I finished, I still couldn’t describe it accurately.  I should have saved myself some time and gone to Wikipedia where it says, “There has never been general agreement on the definition of existentialism.”  Ah.  And yet when you Google existentialism, the first thing it gives you is a definition: “a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”

Hmmn.  Let’s not get off track here.  This article is about my thoughts on life, and the reason I brought up existentialism is that there are themes (which I embrace) that run throughout the philosophy.  I’ll quote from Wikidpedia again.  “The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it…  Because of the world’s absurdity, at any point in time, anything can happen to anyone, and a tragic event could plummet someone into direct confrontation with the Absurd.”  I agree with that sentiment and, of course, it is a variation on thoughts I expressed earlier.  Another existential theme is that people aren’t primarily rational.  To me, this should be obvious after a single trip to Walmart.  Plus, I have the authors of “Freakonomics” to back me up on the concept, but there are numerous crazy people who would argue the point.

Alright, here are some other things in life that I value:

Kindness.  Tremendously so.

Love.  Despite my infatuation with all things artistic, there is no greater thing in life than being in the arms of someone that loves you.  It also helps if you love them back.  No thrill of discovery caused by a remarkable twist of plot, no wave of dopamine ecstasy triggered by a song on the radio, no fine European chocolate that has been smuggled across the ocean in a backpack, can come close to the amazingnessosity of love.

And then you die.

See.  That’s how it is.  And so what if it doesn’t last.  That makes it more precious.  To me, that’s the sentiment at the heart of existentialism: joy in your sorrow, sorrow in your joy.  Dust in the wind?  Nah.  It’s the strokes of an artist’s homemade pen, evaporating quickly in the afternoon sun.

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