Commusings: Enough Is A Feast by Jeff KrasnoNov 29, 2020
By the time this ink hits the press, I’ll be 50. I am reveling in the denouement of my fifth decade, sipping tequila (as an anti-inflammatory, of course) and teasing my ancient beloved, Schuyler, who turned 50 in April. Shot glasses, limes, salt, and associated ribaldry just specks in the rearview mirror. Now, I drink for my health, just a thimble to help with digestion while I curl up with Thoreau in front of a crackling fire. Against my will, I am becoming my father. For me, a pleasant fate, if a bit sedentary.
Maybe like you, I had grandiose designs for 2020, with its notable birthdays and a silver anniversary. Even my daughters convinced me that turning 16, 13 and 10 were of significance. But quite quickly, the chain came off our family plans for a bicycle trip through Italy. Instead, we Zoomed a lot, binged Queen’s Gambit and played online chess. My plans for a musical extravaganza birthday bash turned into a solo gig of sappy jazz ballads. But, if this birthday, or this year, proved anything, it’s that enough is a feast. We hiked and cooked, read and wrote, talked and walked. The imposed monasticism of this strange and twisted year, and particularly this season, focused our gaze onto the abundance of what we have, not the scarcity of what we lack.
I was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1970 at the University of Chicago’s Lying Inn hospital. I grew up one of those pitied kids whose birthday overlaps with a holiday. Instead of bowling with my mates and plotting schemes to nick those groovy shoes, I was at Nana’s house wearing a collared shirt. My Papa’s birthday coincided as well. And due to the confluence of happy observances, the entire family made the annual Turkey Day pilgrimage to South Florida. Like a Kumbh Mela for lapsed Jews — the frosted-haired great-aunts, the twins I could never tell apart, the vegan uncle who never wore underwear, the cousins that grew a foot every year — we all made the schlep.
My sweet Nana feverishly planned for it all year. And though she always assured me that I was the biggest turkey of them all (as she surreptitiously slipped me a fiver), I learned quickly to share the spotlight. In truth, she told us all the same thing. There is only one grandchild prodigy in the world and every Jewish grandmother has one, or, in our case, six. While I wallowed in this annual ritual of family dramedy, sun burns and too much noodle kugel, I am not sure I fully appreciated it. Until now.
Until now, as I stare at my own children sparring over Parcheesi, losing myself in them, trying to be present and also helplessly sensing it slip away. Too soon, they’ll be wanderlusting off on global conquests and, worse, visiting their wretched in-laws for holidays. At bloody 50, I channel the grim resignation of every parent as we cry, “Don’t they know God is right here, dammit!” If the young knew and the old could.
While 50 orbits around the sun is a formidable distance, I don’t want to get too mawkish with the symbolism of it. I suppose there is a part of me that is infinite and ageless. The me who resides outside of space and time, location and form. The me unwitnessable by the limitations of my five senses and science’s genius to enhance them. The me outside the physical plane and the world of the 10,000 things. The immutable me.
I only glimpse my limitless self in the hush of solitude. Melville wrote, “the one and only voice of God is silence.” Silence is a portal into elevated consciousness as it may be the only human experience that is infinite. It has no beginning nor end. It takes no form, nor can it be located. Sitting in silence opens the door to a world unbound by the vacillations of space and time, to things that never change. And, in this utter emptiness, the very idea of “me” dissolves. There is only the world, a single all-enveloping Self of which you and I are merely modifications. This emptiness barely musters a placid smile over a man turning fifty.
And while I gaze upon this everlasting sunset from time to time, I know I cannot exist completely untethered to my personhood, this clumsy human experience of eating and pooping between thoughts. Here, in dull care, I still must chop the wood and carry the water. This is our common project: to continually re-stitch these cleaved realities, alloying the work of our body-mind with the awareness of a higher consciousness.
As my trunk acquires rings, I am beginning to contemplate my legacy, not out of vanity, nor in terms of an epitaph. I am pondering, what about me lives on after the drummer hits the final crash cymbal? What is the song after the curtain drops on the performance? What is it about my life that will outlive my life?
I keep thinking, hoping, that perhaps there is a way to contribute to the body of human knowledge in such a manner that the experience of what it is like to be human is better. May we all share the goal that the ripple of our ephemeral existence maximizes the well-being and minimizes the suffering of those who follow. Let this be our collective dharma.
The most tangible vessels to carry the products of my life posthumously forward are my children. They have no choice but to sit at the dinner table and listen to me prattle on. You can just delete me with a flippant keystroke, but perhaps you’ll linger a moment. I have begun to harvest the contents of my scattershot experiences, the abject failures and modest breakthroughs, and synthesize them into pint-sized lessons. Here are some aphoristic musings about life, as I have begun to understand it, that, at 50, I am sharing with my children:
Gratitude is not simply a state of thankfulness. Gratitude is most truly expressed by the works and actions in which one engages that recognize the miracle of life’s gifts.
Great leadership articulates a vision, fosters fluency around it and distributes power. A great leader clearly elucidates the mission and its supporting values, which provide the lens through which an empowered community can make decisions. The great leader needs superlative judgment but does not need to, nor should, make all the decisions. This model of centralized mission and decentralized decision-making fosters trust, empowerment and, inevitably, healthy growth.
Profound love is not a transitory emotion passing through consciousness moment by moment. Love is an essence that emerges from the absence of need and births the possibility for compassion, forgiveness and generosity.
Conversation may be the most powerful vehicle for manifesting the world our hearts know is possible. Conversation requires vulnerability, which is synonymous with courage. It fosters a recognition of our common humanity that is, above all, what the world so desperately needs. In a thoughtful marketplace of ideas, the best ones will cream to the top.
Commitment is often misconstrued as limitation and framed within the parentheses of sacrifice, of what one must give up. However, the bedrock of unconditional love is the launchpad for madcap risks and the pursuit of uncertain dreams. In failure, there is the comfort of deep allegiance to break the fall. In this way, commitment is freedom.
Genuine community fosters true belonging, an acceptance of its members without demand that they sacrifice who they authentically are. Community requires tolerance for everything except intolerance. Community thrives in safety, trust and continuity.
Compassion brings lovingkindness to the presence of suffering in a manner that seeks to alleviate suffering. Compassion differs from empathy, the donning of another’s emotional clothing. It has an innately positive valence that is vibrant and effusive. The practice of compassion represents humanity in its highest form.
Forgiveness is not only an offering to someone else, but it is also a gift you give yourself. When you are holding the ember of vengeance, it is you that is getting burned. In forgiveness, you drop the ember, overcome resentment and purge your spirit. Forgiveness does not forsake justice. You can forgive and still hold your offender accountable. It first transpires in the head and then, slowly, in the heart. Forgiveness is the most difficult virtue to practice.
A life of integrity is one in which you align your works and actions with your highest principles irrespective of external circumstances.
Now that I am on life’s back nine, or more actuarially, in the tee box of the 13th hole, I am making some resolutions. Just for an ego boost, I’ll start with one I can keep: no duck. I don’t like consuming waterfowl so that’s an easy win to get me some momentum. No sugar. Man, that’s hard but I’m going to try. Meditate every day if only for a minute. I can do that. Fearlessly engage in thorny conversations. Sure, but difficult because I fancy being liked. Be present with my family. And write a book (even if I need to publish it myself!). I know all these things would be good for me, but, of course, the gap between knowing and doing can be daunting to traverse.
Wisdom may just be listening to your own advice.
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