Wile E. Coyote

I’m reading Sean Carroll‘s so-far-fantastic-book The Big Picture. It’s tagged as an exploration of the origins of life, origins of meaning, and the origins of the universe. My Kindle lists it at 840 pages, and so far each one is worth reading.

Wile E. Coyote opens chapter one running headlong over a cliff’s edge to momentarily defy gravity. It’s weird, but my first thought as Wile E. floats in space, looking at me and then at the hard ground below, is of my mother, now passed. I’ve written much about my Father, but Mom is worthy of a few stories, too. I thought of her just like I think of Wile E., stopping whatever she’s doing to assess the minutiae of her relationships. Everything – everyone, every word, every nuance of a look – is parsed and scrutinized. The motivations, the real meanings of words, and why someone used that particular word, is all sieved and funneled in an evaluation of her entire history with that person. And that’s just before breakfast. 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 mean. I know there are times when people play word-games and mind-games. In general, I’m just so interested in whatever I’m doing that I’m not bothered by whatever you are doing. Some say it’s a flaw and maybe it’s ego. I say it keeps me out of a lot of hot water. Years ago I did an end-around with my Mom during one of her ‘now, don’t tell your sister this…’ phone calls: I stopped her and said I don’t want to know anything that I can’t tell someone to their face at the family Christmas party. She said…Okay…and made an excuse to hang up the phone. She didn’t talk to me for six months, and, since then, we’ve gotten  along famously. 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.

Finding acceptance

How does this relate to the cartoon? To Wile E. Coyote? I can’t imagine this was what Carroll hoped for as a writer, but my first thoughts were about how debilitating it is to stop and assess every meaningless thing around you. Of course, meaninglessness is in the eye of the beholder. If you stopped mid-sentence in a conversation to look at Mom’s shoes, I wouldn’t think a thing of it. But her? My gosh. There’s a week’s work of angst-ridden subterfuge there.

But, I have irritating peccadilloes, too. I am of a philosophical bent, and I have a friend who raises his hands and cries foul every time I ask him, “now…what exactly do you mean by that?” He claims I’ve fallen prey to some liberal plot to overcome the world.
“Good gawd, man!” he says. “Can’t you just answer a question? Not everything needs a Ph.D. essay!”
I admit it to be true: I am a fan of thoughtful living, and of moving through life intentionally, and of decoding beliefs and culture, and feelings. Sometimes it puts a pall on simple fun.

What would Jesus say?

It’s been worn on many wrists, but what would Jesus say? In John’s gospel, Jesus begins the fourteenth chapter with a gentle salutation: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me.” He ends the same chapter with a gift: “Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.”

This speaks to the crux of Mom’s anxiety. It’s wondering if we are good enough, if we pass the test, if we are well thought of. For Mom and her friends, or so-called friends, (she’ll decide later), it’s an if-then proposal. If your kitchen is clean, and if your children are well-behaved, and if you go to the 11:00 service at the Lutheran church, then you’re okay. But if you wear those shoes to church? Honey? You’ll be out of the club before we pass the plate.

The takeaway, then, is to choose what you think about. If you think about how your son-in-law wears his shirt around your house, that’s your decision. It’s okay. It’s not what I want to focus on, and I hope your thoughts about his shirt don’t overwhelm your thoughts about how much he cares for your child. Just remember: if your thoughts hang you up in mid-air, you’ll fall and it’s a hard landing.  Maybe what we think about can make the thud a little less bruising.

Here is Carroll’s book at Amazon. Here it is at Powell’s Books in Portland. Remember: it’s a science book written by a scientist, and has lots of big words.