Tonight I dined on salmon at our local nice-but-not-posh eatery. The salmon came on a cedar plank, which may sound elegant if one lives in a land of mountain mahogany, but
sounds instead ironic when the eastern red cedar is a ubiquitous invader, reminding us that the wild prairie grasses deserved to remain pristine.
I'd rather not draw my metaphor too carefully, because all that nature video of swimming upstream and evading bears who eschew blueberry for finny sustenance seems rather exhausting, as I'd not doubt have to somehow equate fish cleaning with right-wing ideology and a restaurant menu with the afterlife.
I do think, by the way, how often we ourselves are co-conspirators in the afterlife. We carry with us the memories of people we treasure, who impact our own world-views in ways we cannot begin to estimate, and who flow, like steelhead, into the creative commons of our collective consciousness--forces for good when we stop to help, or yield a right-of-way. I like the image that we place our grandmother, in coin form, in the donation jar for the SPCA at the doughnut house, and that my great uncle, the world's greatest fisherman, comes to me in a respect for the inter-connectedness of things I would not have gained but for his example.
Tonight I spoke with one of my oldest and dearest friends, a man with whom I attended high school but with whom I became a close friend in college. He and his wife live up in the Tulsa area--he's one of my LJ friends here. Both of us went to college, a year apart, in the little pastel-walled cinder-block building at our university that was an HVAC building before it became the Department of Physics.
My friend went on and got his Ph.D. from a fine institution, and has had a career in satellite trajectory rocket science, designing ticketless travel systems, and cool things involving experimental planes. I chose a different path, turning my physics degree into a preparation for law school, and doing much smaller things in much smaller ways.
My friend and I both came from a very small town--population 16,000 (13,000 now). I moved there when I was 16, from a smaller town of 2,000. We both graduated high school in the very late 1970s, when the radio alternated between rather unfortunate disco tunes, a song called "torn between two lovers", about a woman filled with emptiness and space inside of her "that only he can fill", and another song in which this poor fellow suffered from a skin rash that meant when he touched someone else, he was overcome with something called "honesty" that was so much "too much" that it made him "hide". Like hives, only more quavery, judging by his voice. This guy's name was Dan Hill, but it should have been Sam Hill, because "what the Sam Hill" was what one said each time it came up on rotation on the radio.
In our little world, entering college, only one profession qualified as true success. This profession was medicine. My father had been a country doctor, who had a good and successful practice. I had watched him work very, very hard and very, very well all my life, and in particular when we lived in the smaller town. He worked so much of the time, but it was a noble thing to do. When we were late teen kids, being a doctor was the only thing to be.
Doctors "had it made". In return for working all the time and sacrificing their social life until their 30s, they made a lot of money and saved children and the elderly from certain death, at least until the elderly died. It was an unbeatable combination. Everyone we knew who was worth their salt was pre-med.
We honestly did not know much about any professions other than doctoring, teaching, and the clergy, although we met a lawyer or two. We had heard of engineers. We considered business a lesser profession. We were extremely limited by what we knew and what we could imagine.
We were salmon who had swum in a single, narrow channel. We had no idea of the oceans of opportunities.
My late mother, a kind of practical saint who made it a life's mission to move from the city back to the little town from whence she sprang, liked to tell the saw about how presidents are often from small towns because in small towns nobody knows enough to tell you that you can never be president if you come from a small town.
We were on the flip side of that paradigm. We saw the world in terms of the trascendent splendor of medicine. I tease my dear friend to this day that he feels inferior because he has a mere Ph.D. in physics and not the medical degree he could not get because he missed by a few points having what it takes to gain admission to med school. Parenthetically, I was a weaker undergraduate student, who was out of the running for medical school by sophomore year, and did not shine academically after high school until law school.
I think sometimes that if we had been ocean salmon, schooled in the ways of fish and schools, we might have had our horizons much more broadly defined. To this day, I make it a point to give kids advice about law careers and whether to go to law school, because I wish I had known someone when I was 22 who could have done that for me.
Looking back, I see the virtue in learning, as I have, what a wide world of possibilities in which one lives. In that time, I saw the world as having academics, artists, writers, scientists, engineers and professionals. All other jobs almost did not exist, and writers and artists could not earn a living. Now I see that it's a world in which things we did not dream of in 1981, when I finished college, earn one a living in 2007.
But this is not a post about how I was stupid then and how I'm wicked genius-y now.
This is the post about possibility.
This is the post about being a different kind of salmon.
Not about careers, or school, or anything specific. No plank metaphors, cedar, walk-able or Max Planck.
Instead, this is a mental note, disguised as a post/essay, about keeping one's mind alive to the limitations of one's assumptions. I don't mean to discard all assumptions. I certainly don't mean that reality is imaginary or mind-controlled. I think that Maya is a pretty girl's name rather than a new cosmic profundity.
I have learned that I am often in need of finding ways to break the boundaries of my assumptions. In my quiet way, I try to learn hwo to do that. I don't always succeed.
But I know to try.
Sometimes, when I leap from the water, upon breaking the surface,the sun glints off me.
Then I know there are possibilities I may not attain, but will never forget.
I try to pass that idea on. That's the after-life, the Kingdom Within, the fast train to Heaven.
It's all around us, these Heavens, if we just be the salmon who leaps. That is the life for which one loses,to save one's soul. That is the way to love, to life, and to
the core of everything. That's the place to which those before us point us, and in which we have the kernel of the possibilty of going--if we can just find our way to do the right thing, and swim for it like a guiding light after life.