Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Contentment

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Back in my Navy days, when I was 18-22 years old, my best friend and I read a lot of Hemingway. We wanted to be world travelers and great lovers and suck the marrow of life. Our nemesis: contentment. To be content was to be marrow-less and inert. Fast-forward to middle age, and one day I realize I am content. Dammit.

I was content--but not really. I still had a hankering for adventure. Not climbing Mt. Everest or anything. Maybe get married. Take vows and keep them. Get a more meaningful job and stick with it through thick and thin. Enforce a modicum of physical toughness by getting regular exercise and eating right. Start a blog and keep at it even when you think you're running out of steam. Stuff like that.

Sometimes you have to put energy into the system to break out of the rut of contentment. Sometimes energy comes into the system from the outside, from the demands of work or marriage or what have you. Either way, life has a way of kicking contentment's ass, and when that happens, when we insist on keeping our contentment, the result is depression and other nasty afflictions of one's spirit.

So I was thinking about this stuff as I was biking home from work last night, and I realized I had a photo from last Sunday's outing to Mt. Tam that I could turn into a kind of kid's story about contentment. It all starts with a seed.

The seed drops out of the bay laurel tree and bounces when it hits the ground. It bounces into a little depression on a big rock. It thinks how nice this little bed is, and it lives like that for a couple of months before it feels a stirring within. WTF? it asks. (Hey, I said "kind of" a kid's story!) The little peppernut likes things just the way they are, so nice and comfy. But then the winter rains come, and the peppernut thinks it's going crazy for a minute. Something weird is happening! Over the next couple of days, a little root comes out and burrows into the little bed of dirt. The peppernut stands up on its root and says woohoo! It likes the view. A couple of cotyledons pop out, and of course as time goes on, the peppernut goes from seedling, to sapling, to full-grown tree making flowers and peppernuts of its own.

By this time it has given up on contentment. For one thing, it lives on a rock! All those bay laurels in their thick juicy soil have it so easy! Okay, they have problems of their own, but none of them had to make it while living on a rock. Living on a rock made growing up a lot harder, and it took a lot longer. Sadly, many peppernuts that land on a rock don't get to grow up into a flowering tree at all.

So tip your hat the next time you walk past a bay laurel growing out of a rock. We're in this wild world together, after all. It's fine to rest on your laurels, but you don't want to rot there.

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