A Miniature City Ablaze (or The Summer Of My Meaning)

I suppose if I am to swim in the North American cultural current of the week and subscribe to the notion that seasons end—and I don’t know that they really do, any more than the color green or red or yellow “ends” on a color wheel—then I must say the conclusion of my summer this weekend could not have been more fitting. After driving nearly four hours northward from our Friday night revelry spot in Asbury Park, NJ, the lovely Ms. Cydnee and I spent three carefree days in Simsbury, Connecticut with friends (old to her, new to me), campfires, and hikes through waterfall glens of the most mossy persuasion. It was life-affirming and blithe in all the ways a weekend away should be.

But this post is not about the long weekend or the close of seasons or the fact that I learned how to light a Zippo off my thigh in one (very cool) singular motion. It’s about the meaning of life. Kinda.

Late in the evening during my last night in Connecticut, I found myself in the middle of a conversation concerning a topic that has perpetually served as one of “Nick DiUlio’s Great Life Themes” throughout the years. With the embers of the dwindling camp fire glowing and hissing like a miniature Tim Burton city aflame, myself and two others began musing on the need for meaning in human existence. Heavy, I know, but bear with me.

I think it all began—as most great conversations do—with the topic of falling in love. The beautiful and frightening surrender to another person and all of the emotional vagaries that ensue. This, of course, led to the nature of empathy and wavelengths and wether or not it is ever possible to truly understand another individual’s precise emotions at any given moment. One of my friends said she believed this was certainly possible. That every so often we find ourselves impossibly locked into the emotional (or, perhaps, spiritual) core of another’s experience and that in that moment we can see quite clearly everything moving through that person’s heart and mind. My other friend said she did not believe this was possible, that what we take for empathy or emotional oneness (please forgive the esoteric verbiage here) is really nothing more than a biological synthesis of neurons firing together at a precise moment in time. An accident of emotional coincidence. An illusion of meaning.

To be sure, this post is not designed to make a case for one world view over another. Entire books have been written on the topic, so I petition you to seek out the further wisdom of such tomes. But I was struck by a particular moment in the conversation when my “biological” friend said she believed human beings were, for lack of a more eloquent and precise term, a stain on the Earth, and that existence—whatever that is—would be better off without us.

I do believe I can say with more than a modicum of conviction that this is not true (even though the word truth seems to be smacking me in the face right now with its puckish subjectivity). Even on a purely biological level, human beings—as a species—are in no way separate from the broader order of the universe’s chemical makeup, no matter how accidental or intentional one sees that assembly. So to say that we are any more or less important to the greater “purpose” (WAH-WAH! subjectivity alert!) of existence doesn’t seem terribly logical, no more than it would be logical to claim that bees are an anathema because they sting, or elephants are a bane because they trample.

But again, I am not here to light the flames of this particular piece of philosophical tinder. I leave that up to you and your own fireside chats. I’m here because that conversation (which was wonderfully stimulating and endlessly enjoyable) brought into an even clearer perspective the impossible beauty and privilege I feel almost every day in being alive. Corny as it may be, I really dig this life, and as this summer (one of the most enriching and lovely I can recall) “ends”, I am filled with thoughts such as these.

To cap it off I’d like to share a short film Cydnee brought to my attention last week. La Maison en Petits Cubes by Kunio Kato won last year’s animated short film prize at the Academy Awards, and it left an indelible mark on my heart. Here’s hoping it may do the same for you.

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2 responses to “A Miniature City Ablaze (or The Summer Of My Meaning)

  1. Nice post, Descartes.

  2. a biological friend

    Wholly charming. The truth is that I want you to will it all to be magic. I have the will to perceive the machinations. And to be wooed by a proposition that art: music, storytelling, illustration, theatre – it is all a collective effort to weave the threads of chaos into a comprehensible unit for the unique human mind/body interface. I can’t turn off my analysis, only work to turn it to serve those who don’t introspect in “socially functional” ways, or maybe just often enough. And I do try not to overly irritate those dreamers with whom I have invested in relationships. Many people can see beauty purely in form; I am limited in that I require the balance of function for my true appreciation. In making sense of things like love and the meaning of life and the rise and fall of civilization, I believe we need that mix of art and engineering that is the quintessential difference between human life and any other that has ever graced (or plagued) a finite set of resources. And I do believe we are due for another fireside chat soon.

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