Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

Tracks in the Sand

Empty Beach, Ogunquit, ME

Empty Beach, Ogunquit, ME

Paul Lester just posted an interesting little piece having to do with middle age, personal growth, and identity.  It’s an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who are in the same boat (or, like me, have been in the boat for quite some time).  Heck, I’m in my early 60’s and often tell people that I still haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up.  And in a sense, that’s true (although somewhat academic at this point).  It’s not that I don’t know who I am – I do.  I’ve always known.  I think we all have.  We may think we don’t know who we are, but that’s just a kind of selective amnesia.  We may not want to face who we are or maybe we don’t like who we are, but we know.  That core personality is always there and never changes, no matter how much we think we may have evolved along the way.  We are who we are.

It’s not our personality that changes.  It’s our appetites.  At different points in our lives we crave different things.  Different jobs.  Different hobbies.  Different people.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s healthy.  The point, though, is that at our center we’re still who we’ve always been.  We’ve just changed the window dressing.

At one point in his post Paul says,

In the evening, when all is quiet, the questions arise: Is this what you want? Why are you still doing this type of job? What about your photography? What about the things that you want from life? Have I simply ’settled’ all of my life? Sometimes I just want to yell from the rooftop: “Who the hell am I and what is the purpose of all of this?!!!”.

These are all good questions, but again they have to do with what we want (or think we want), not with who we are.  More importantly, the best way to answer them is to never ask them.  Most of us who play around with cameras know that the “perfect” photograph can never be found by consciously looking for it.  The harder you try, the less likely you are to find it.  You have to let it find you.  I think the same is true if you’re trying to find a “purpose” to life.  The harder you pursue it, the more elusive it becomes.

I’m not being flippant here.  Nor am I disagreeing with Paul’s point of view (well, at least not all of it).  I agree that we all learn as we go through life, or at least we’re all given plenty of opportunity to learn.  I just don’t believe that our basic, individual behavioral patterns change much as a result.  I don’t believe that we “evolve”.  I don’t believe that there is some fate or destiny that is ours alone that we must somehow figure out.  That there is some great universal plan that we’re all part of.

Just be who you are today.  Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow will take care of itself, one way or another.  As far as I’m concerned, life is just an endless series of rolling the dice.  You take your best shot and go with it.  Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.  You can make a philosophical stew out of it if you want to, but it probably won’t have much of an effect on the end result.

In the final analysis, we’re all just tracks in the sand.


3 Responses to “Tracks in the Sand”

  1. Paul

    Interesting points, Paul. I don’t think, necessarily, that we know much about our true nature, or self. When we are born we are given a lot of information on how to behave that is acceptable to society. What are the right things to say. Give your grandmother a kiss, even if you don’t want to, etc. If you want to be respected, take this type of job. If you want to be successful, you have to earn this amount of money, live in this type of house, and marry this type of person.

    You are endowed with a particular religion, if your family is into that type of thing. Later, some of these rolls, behaviors, and expectations no longer fit. Perhaps you went to college because it was the expected thing to do. You got a particular job so that you could support your family’s lifestyle.

    At this point in life, midlife, you start questioning some of the rolls that fit so easily before. What you call appetites are perhaps that shadow side that has been ignored or repressed for so long. Perhaps you wanted to really go teach snowboard lessons in Vail, CO, but your parents, et al. expected you to go to college, so you went. Now you’re in a job that you don’t like, but that meets the approval of your family, friends, and ‘socieyt’ in general. That shadow side, or the disavowed/unowned part aches to get out. You want to be selfish sometimes and not consider everyone else first. You want that car that you wanted when you were 20. Now you have the means to get it AND you no longer care what society thinks about it.

    I don’t think that never asking the question is the answer. Questions allow for growth. It seems to be a bit of avoidance or denial to not ask. How can we know if we never ask? I don’t think that we are fated to do any particular thing, a singular purpose in life. Yet, I do believe that there are some things that we may want to do but our rolls kept us from doing them. As for evolution, I think that at the core, we know what we want; however, we might have to remove a myriad of layers to get that understanding. As you said, we can be only who we are today, which is different than who we were yesterday.

    The philosophical stew is, perhaps, a way to make the meal of life a bit more palatable. 🙂 Excellent post, Paul!

  2. Cedric

    Paul L. I was going to comment on your post but as Paul M. responded with his equally well written post I am commenting here 🙂

    “Letting a photograph find you”… so true and as you say it applies to just about anything. As for the questions I would imagine that they “pop up” for a lot of people. They certainly do for me. The trick, if there is such a thing, is to see the questions for what they are. When these questions appear in my head I am aware of them but I do not know that I invited them in. I am not even sure how much control I have over the mind. After all if I had full control I imagine that stopping thoughts would be as easy as stopping my fingers from tapping on the desk. But we all know that is not the case. When these types of questions come I see them simply as thoughts. I am aware of them, I watch them come and I let them go. I do not get attached to them. This is quite different to ignoring a thought. Ignoring a thought is nothing more than a different form of attachment. In watching questions/thoughts come and go I find a balance in life. A balance that comes through acceptance of what is but without the feeling of fatalism.
    Tracks in the sand indeed or waves in the ocean. It may be worth noting that it is the sand that allows the tracks to “be”, it is the ocean that allows the waves to “be”. Even at its crest a wave is never far from what it truly is.

  3. Paul Maxim

    Paul: I agree with most of what you say. We do lots of things for lots of reasons, some good, some bad. And it may be that the “midlife crisis” that you allude to does sometimes make us question our motivations and, in some cases, alter our behavior. I’m just not as sure that that process constitutes “growth”. With respect to asking the questions, I apologize if it sounded like we should never ask them. We should. My point was simply that “consciously” seeking the answers probably won’t work (at least it doesn’t for me).

    Cedric: You said, “It may be worth noting that it is the sand that allows the tracks to ‘be'”. I just love that. It kind of takes my little metaphor and turns it on its head. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that little insight!


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