Back when we were kids – I am assuming that this is probably a pretty universal phenomenon – we often were caught in our in grand reveries. We laid on the grass staring up at the endless skyscape and wondered about big questions like “how many do you see?” Or “do you think there are other kids up there on other planets looking back at us?” Or maybe “wow, I guess there is a god if he made this”
As we moved into our teenage years we wrestled with huge ideas like goodness, the future, how could Jesus mother have been a virgin, will I become president. We wondered about the virtue of virtue and the ultimate meaning of a civilization that embraced Nazism. We tried to integrate the optimism of space exploration with our own pedestrian obsession with sex or the irresistible pull of Sunday night procrastination.
As adulthood loomed we might have wondered about the possible righteousness of Marx or the depravity of the murder of our mythically idealized president. Was evil an inherent element of the human condition. Was idealism dead, did our thoughts and opinions even have weight?
My current book is one by the Czech author Milan Kundera. It seems he had loaded every page is with grand ideas; Immortality, honesty, self-deception, even wondering if the universe is simply a computer program some god created long ago, then hit play and walked away. Ever since, he implies, we, the inhabitants, have been struggling with the implications of this amoral environment.
I don’t know about you but opening my life to big ideas at this moment in life is unnerving. Instead I put lots of effort into getting my banking life lined up harmoniously. In my current scheme of things it seems like a feat of wonder when I can fashion a passable meal from the stray vegetables and a hunk of sausage (how long has that been in the fridge anyway?) . When a freight train is racing across the desert prairie and I can see both the engine and very back end (out here on the ranges of the southwest they often add another pusher locomotive too) I choose to invest great psychic energy to estimate the total length of that train. 53 foot containers on each car plus 6 feet each end for the couplings times the number of cars visible (this is the tough part if you are driving at 65 miles per hour) plus 75 feet for each locomotive. Yup, that must be a mile long. Whew, my brain is tired from working on that big idea.
Fifty years ago I wrestled with the question of war or jail. Eventually the real world intervened and the big question became war or bedpans. The real world has continued to intervene in the subsequent fifty years. It seems the big questions may have been ground to dust.