I am paralyzed.
No, I’m not in a wheel chair. Yes, I still have two legs, and they work. Arms work too.
Oh sure, chemotherapy took its toll. I don’t quite have the stamina I used too. And I am cursed with nerve damage and mysterious pains. But by and large, my body still works.
My paralysis is not physical. It’s mental, and perhaps emotional.
I thought having cancer would be cathartic. I expected to come out of it with a new sense of clarity and purpose for my life. All the uncertainties of the past were supposed to have melted away. After all, I could have died. I am only alive today because they cut pieces out of me and conducted chemical warfare inside my body.
But it didn’t happen.
My new-found respect for the precious and fleeting nature of life also made me ever more fearful of wasting it.
It’s left me paralyzed. Paralyzed by choice. Scared to make the wrong one and waste precious time. Isn’t it ironic?
Count your blessings, they say.
I have. I am very blessed. I am alive. I am married to the most wonderful, caring, devoted woman in the world. I may not own it, but my home is clean, modern and comfortable. We share it with two delightful cats who warm our hearts at every opportunity. They even use the toilet, so we never have to clean up after them. I have every toy I could ever need (though certainly not all that I covet), my biggest problem is not lacking things but being overwhelmed by too many of them. I have good job where I am treated well and rarely stressed. I have great friends, great family, and I’m surrounded by people who care for me. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I’ve got it all covered.
All except for that pesky top bit. And that pesky top bit is very important.
Logically, we’d expect to get happier the further up on the pyramid we get. And certainly this is true for the first four sections. But logic kind of breaks down when we get to the top.
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Here’s what I’ve noticed about Maslow’s hierarchy: unlike the bottom four sections, the top section offers options. Self-actualization, or “purpose”, by its very nature is about options.
The first option is creativity. It’s the first one, so logic dictates it’s the best one, or the most important one.
The second is spontaneity. Got all your basic needs taken care of? Great, go on a road trip! Or just see a movie, or read a book. Because you can.
It’s the third option, problem solving, that intrigues me. Because I see it as the fallback option. It’s how we self-actualize when we’re not quite sure what else to do.
And it’s a trap. Because, if you’re like me and you’re lucky enough to (currently) not have a lot of problems or your own, you’ll probably find yourself trying to solve other people’s problems, or worse, the world’s problems.
Let me say this, unless you’re politically connected or filthy stinking rich, trying to solve the world’s problems is a losing proposition and a really, really, shitty way to self-actualize.
And it’s what I’ve been doing. Because I’ve been too paralyzed by uncertainty to do anything else.
Now I am not so arrogant as to believe I’ve actually been doing anything that might even remotely resemble “solving”. Not so say I don’t have some good ideas, but the people with power aren’t exactly interested in listening to me.
What I have been expending an awful lot of energy worrying about how the world’s going to Jahannam in a hand-basket. And it very well might be. But goddamnit, we’re here for a good time, not a long time, and I have got to stop worrying about that shit.
No I am not a religions man, but I’m not afraid to borrow a little religious wisdom here and there:
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference
So yeah, some changes are in order.