“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.” -Confucius
My second life began when I was twenty-six. I at once became keenly aware of how short life is, how it can end suddenly, how none of us is promised tomorrow. This realization was not triggered by a near-death experience or the loss of someone close to me. It came about in the aftermath of divorce, while struggling to build a life for myself and to sculpt an identity. It arose during months of counseling sessions, self-reflection, trying to lift myself out of the hole of depression. I read the words of Eckhart Tolle, echoing the sentiments of the Buddha and other wise people over the millennia: “the present moment is all you have.”
As you’ve probably realized, this is not a law blog. I’ve previously written about why I can’t comment on controversial legal and political issues. As a judicial staff member, I’m governed by ethics rules that prohibit me from opining on legal issues that may come before my court. The ethics folks take these restrictions seriously. I once attended a training in which the speaker said it would be unethical to post a recent Supreme Court decision on social media with nothing more than the comment “interesting case.”
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
I’ve become convinced that curiosity is the solution to most of our problems, individually and globally. How can that be, you ask? How could centuries-old conflicts, climate change, interpersonal strife, and disease epidemics be cured by mere curiosity? Well, you’re on the path to finding answers simply because you’ve begun by asking questions.
One of my favorite TV shows right now is The Last Man on Earth. The show’s premise is that a viral outbreak has killed nearly all people and animals, save a few who were immune or unexposed. At the beginning of the show, we meet Phil Miller, who’s been traveling the country trying to find other survivors after losing everyone he knew. He’s miserable and lonely, and just when he’s about to give up on life, he meets another survivor, Carol. As the series progresses, a few others join them. Phil struggles to adjust to living with people again. The circumstances bring together dissimilar people who likely would not have crossed paths before the virus, and we watch them try to figure out how to live in this new world. The show is quirky, funny, creative, and at times poignant, though it’s not as depressing as you might guess.