In Sean Carroll‘s fantastic book The Big Picture, (An exploration of the origins of life, meaning, and the universe. What could be more fun?) he opens with Wile E. Coyote defying gravity after running headlong over a sheer cliff. You know the story: below him is nothing but hot, parched ground, a thousand feet down. Thinking about the book’s opening, I started to write one thing, and then, mid-paragraph, scratched it, and thought of my deceased mom.
I’ve written much about my Father, but my Mom is worthy of a few stories of her own. Mom was Wile E. Coyote jumping over the cliff of offense and perceived intentions. Smack in the middle of stirring cookie dough, she might slow down and stare confusedly at the ceiling. You look, too, but see nothing. And then you remember: mom is wondering what Aunt Janet meant by that remark. For mom, every single thing – every single thing – that happened between her and anyone else was worthy of being parsed, scrutinized, and figured out. Motivations, real meanings of words, and why someone used that particular word, is all sieved and funneled while she re-evaluates her entire history with that person. And that’s just before breakfast.
Okay. I’m exaggerating, but it’s exhausting. I am of that happy and dopey ilk who doesn’t notice these things. I know that when they are mad, people say things they don’t always think. I know there are times when people play word-games and mind-games. I believe people are entitled to their say and their story. In general, I’m just so interested in whatever I’m doing that I’m not that bothered by what you are doing. Some say it’s a flaw. I say it keeps me out of a lot of hot water.
I finally did an end-around with my Mom during one of her “now, don’t tell your sister this…’ phone calls: I stopped her cold and told her that I don’t want to know anything that I can’t tell someone to their face at the Christmas party. She hemmed and hawed and said Okay and then didn’t talk to me for six months. We’ve got on fine ever since. I’m seriously out of the family gossip loop and I can’t say how many days or weeks of good living I’ve recovered.
How does this relate to the cartoon and to you? My first thought reading this was how debilitating it is to have to stop and assess every meaningless thing around you. But no sooner had I thought this than I tripped over the word ‘meaningless’. These things are obviously meaningful to my Mother. They are not to me.
The takeaway is to choose what to think about. If you’re like mom, it won’t come easy. But it hurts when you fall. Remember that. Remember that when you are suspended in mid-air, you are going to fall – it’s the nature of things – and hit the hard ground. Maybe what we think about can make the landing a little less bruising?