Fragile Lives

image from the Robin Wood Tarot

If I’ve been quiet recently, it’s at least in part because I’ve been bombarded with emotional reminders of just how fragile our lives are, how quickly they can come crashing down, and how little control we really have. The news keeps bringing examples of lives damaged or even ruined by overzealous police and prosecutors. My job appears to be safe, but we’ve lost people to layoffs who’ve been with the company for 15 years or more. And this is to say nothing of people whose lives have been torn apart by earthquakes, disease, or accidents.

Our ancestors huddled around fires to keep the predators at bay. We aren’t as far removed from them as we like to think. Being the paranoid worrywart that I am, these scenarios have been playing through my head virtually non-stop the last week or so.

Now, I have the confidence that comes from experience. I’ve been given three layoff notices in my career and I’ve yet to miss a paycheck – for which I am immensely thankful. Part of that is skill, part is hard work, but part is purely Divine Providence. My dealings with the police consist of two speeding tickets, neither of which could legitimately be characterized as overzealous. And after 47 years of not dying, I don’t worry much (some, but not much) about getting run over by a beer truck on the way home from work.

Still, these things do happen, and they can happen to you, or to me. I’ve been wondering how I’d respond if they did (useless worry, I know, but I can’t help it). And I keep coming back to two options: either I’d go insane, or I’d become a Buddhist. In other words, I don’t think I could handle a major disruption of my life. Or more precisely, I wouldn’t want to handle a major disruption of my life. So I’d transcend it, either skillfully (Buddhism) or unskillfully (insanity).

But if life is so fragile, so uncertain, why bother building it at all – why not just become a Renouncer now?

Because when it’s right, when it works, life is good. That’s where Pagans differ from both Eastern and Western religions – the world isn’t suffering and it isn’t sinful, it’s full of joy and excitement and satisfaction and pleasure. That’s not all it is, but it’s worth putting up with the bad (and the danger of the really bad) in order to experience the good.

And yet, at times like these, the freedom of the monk or the mystic – or the lunatic – looks awfully inviting. No need to worry about jobs or houses or new computers that stop working after 11 days in use, just meditate, just bask in divine communion…

Is this an either/or proposition? Or is there a way to participate in the pleasures of life without becoming so attached to them that the possibility of their loss causes sleepless nights? And alternatively, is it possible to plug directly into the Divine without going stark raving mad?

I want both.
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About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.