Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Existential Crisis

It all started when I read a early passage in Dillard's Pilgrim, in which she is at the creek and she watches a frog, paralyzed in the water with blank eyes. Thinking this is odd, she continues to watch the frog, and as she watches, he deflates, leaving just a skin that floats to the bottom of the creek. His innards had been dissolved by a water bug, and sucked out for dinner.

The next thing that happened was that I was able to set up my 401(k). I'm excited at the prospet of being able to save up now for my future, as we all know where Social Security will be in 50 years, when I'm ready to retire. Now, I'll be able to have a more aggressive portfolio, blah blah blah.

This is good.

However, it is very grown up. I now am saving up for RETIREMENT. In my opinion, I'm a mere child.

The third thing: I've finally realized that money does make the world go 'round. Sure, many believe in religion and good works, but frankly, it's all about money. I studied for 19 years of my life in order to have a job (or, as we like to call them, "a career") so that I can make money. Had I not studied so long, I would not make as much money, and that wouldn't really help anyone.

No. The only way to live is to spend hours of your day making money (my job is really me making money by working on a project that will make money for my company, which will in turn hopefully make money for the client, who will then have enough money to pay their employees and grow to make more money...). After you've made your money (whether you like your job or not), you then have money to do what you like to do, whether this is buying a tasty dinner (again, money), decorating your home (money), shopping (money), going to the gym (pay money!), watching a movie (yup, money, unless you are able to just plug your TV into the wall and use your antennae to watch something you like).

So, life is pretty much trading money. Sometimes you help others buy trading your money (i.e. giving to social concerns), and sometimes you just trade your money for your own good. Either way, the next 50 years of your life after college is making money so you can trade it. My 401(k)? There, I save money so that I can spend it when I'm elderly and can't work. However, I save it by giving it to someone else to trade for me. And then, when a water bug sneaks up behind me and sucks all my innards, deflating me and leaving me for dead, my descendants will have my money to continue trading.

Yippee. How exciting. What a legacy!

Is this really the master plan? The way of the world?

Worse yet, who really wants to get old, and have done nothing but buy and sell money? What's that all about?

The other night, I had to help my 100-year-old neighbor find his wife. She fell, and was in the hospital. However, he could not remember this, so I had to try to explain why his wife wasn't home (after I called their caretaker). He kept insisting that he and his wife "didn't fight or anything." As if I'd believe that after 80 years of marriage, his wife finally got fed up enough to up and leave anyway.

The moral of that story is that this man was old. Very old. 100 isn't pretty. His skin was like tissue paper -- I could see the dark blue lines of the veins in his hands protruding above the surface. What was left of his hair and his face was flaking away -- not psoriasis, but just as if his skin was tired out and giving up, jumping a sinking ship. His eyes were clouded and he couldn't make out more than shapes and blobs. He couldn't hear well. He was thin, and as he held on to his walker, it looked as if his wrists would snap under his own weight. To get to close to him meant you had to smell that vinegary scent of impending death. Worse yet, he had no recollection of his day -- he had no idea that he just left his wife at the hosptial hours before.

So, they spent their entire lives trading money, and they got what? A long life. A long life filled with failing faculties and short memories.

Not that life is pointless, but it's strange, and frankly, no one can tell me why it is at all. Is this what God wanted? He thought it would be neat to make a bunch of humans who would be born, trade some money, and then die? I really can't believe that this is it....but it might be. Who knows.

That's my existential crisis in a nutshell. Money, aging and the meaning of life. Perhaps I just need a hobby.