Seeking for Meaning
I picked up a copy of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I know I read it long ago when I was a freshman in college, but I wanted to reacquaint myself with the words of this woman who was writing creative nonfiction before I ever knew there was such a thing. I’ve just barely begun to read it. I’m impressed with the way she compresses ideas into sentences and seems to abandon a theme only to bring it back later. Mostly though, I’ve been wondering what it would be like to have a life where I could go visit an island in the middle of a creek every day. Not just visit it, but spend hours there thinking long thoughts about life and meaning. It almost makes me want to read a biography of Dillard. How did she pay her bills while pilgrimageing to and from Tinker Creek? Did her other life obligations just not make it into her words, or was she like Thoreau who deliberately created a space separate from regular life so that he could experience it, think about it, and write it? I’ve always meant to read Thoreau’s Walden Pond, but just now I think I need to find voices which discuss finding serenity in the middle of things rather than leaving all things to find serenity. There are lessons to be learned in the abandonment of things, the foremost being that many essentials aren’t as necessary as we think. But at least four of my “things” are children and I could not live with myself if I failed them because I sought some separate peace.
My life is full of trivia, small errands, debris on the carpet, and spills hardened on the counter tops. It is hard to pull a sense of connection from a spill on the counter in the way that Dillard connects a fast flowing creek with ideas of struggle and grand truths. Somehow nature lends itself to slow thoughts, big ideas. Mostly the spill on the counter means it is time to clean again. A month ago we got away by visiting Fremont Indian State Park where I looked at tools and clothes crafted by the hands of Native Americans long before my grandmother was born. I marveled at what they created and pictured how they used those creations. I saw carvings on the rocks of the canyon and pondered the devotion of the artist who worked there. Then I come home to plastic and molded metal. These things are no less marvelous. They represent feats of skill and engineering. That plastic toy from a fast food meal represents the combined knowledge, experimentation, and labor of hundreds or even thousands of people. It exists because those people shared their knowledge with each other and worked together to create a society where plastic toys are so common that they end up in the trash. There are definitely points to make about wastefulness and entitlement, yet I don’t know that every Native American moccasin maker was focused on art either.
Dillard and Thoreau sought truths in nature. I tend to seek them in faith, community, and nature in domestic doses. Though sometimes I even find truth while doing dishes and laundry. I think truth and meaning aren’t in things at all. Truth and meaning are in the people who take time to ponder the world around them. I don’t have to run away to find miracles and lessons. Though sometimes getting away and coming back gives me new perspectives, which I suppose is what Dillard and Thoreau were doing on a grand scale. I can think beautiful thoughts and write beautiful words from where I am. The value in a pilgrimage is what the traveler gives to it and gains from it, not in the miles traversed.
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