Have you ever used one of those shopping carts that has a pole attached, so it can’t leave the store, and failed to notice this important detail, until you tried to exit—while in a rush—and it crashed against the top of the door, causing you to go flying backwards? This has happened to me more than once, most recently, last week. “Ma’am, you can’t go outside with that cart,” said the security guard in a commanding voice after my pole dramatically hit the doorframe. As if I still hadn’t realized my mistake at that point. No, pretty sure the moment I crashed into the doorway with an embarrassing clang and a jolt to my system, I realized immediately just how dumb I was, thank you very much.
“One of the most difficult human challenges is finding a truthful way to live within limits, whether these limits are imposed by our own fallibility, the needs of others, or societal dictates.” -Sandra Buechler from her book, Still Practicing. I came across this quote the other day and it stuck with me. It reminds me of how, sometimes, I feel the rush of life’s energy through my veins—so electrifying and clear—like a dog with its head out the window, sensing all that exciting animal and human activity, salivating over those fresh, nonintoxicating smells of aliveness, the earth. During these moments, I feel closest to understanding the interconnectedness of it all, the universe, love. It is thrilling and expanding, and it feels like I will never come down. Until I do. With a jolt. “Ma’am, you can’t go outside with that cart.” And suddenly, the universe is telling me, slow the fuck down, there are limits, pain, fallibility. (And, of course, it’s not really about the grocery cart incident.) Often despair follows this and some existential questioning. Why bother when there’s always the inevitable crash, that acute awareness of tragedy and pain, death—the ultimate human limit. And I see myself hating those setbacks, fighting against them, feeling angry, because, how dare I must suffer this way and can’t fly so high. And, who suddenly took away my goddamn wings? No one. It’s just life’s limits—boundaries that are real—boxes that shape a human life. When I came across this quote, it felt nice to have some language around all this. It was like being offered a hot bowl of soup when you have a cold. It didn’t solve anything, but it did provide some nourishment, and maybe beginnings of a little joy returning—like a drop of fuel, starting to fill my tank for when it came time for soaring again.
I watch my oldest son, J, in his fantasy world. Almost daily, he shares a running story plot about a monster called “the Lull” and its “Evil Biker Gang.” He says that he and a group called “the Hug Team” are constantly thinking of creative ways to outsmart “the Lull.” It’s interesting to me that this story he authors for himself, appears to take up a significant percentage of his waking thoughts. And in this fantasy play, he creates powers for himself that are, of course, beyond his literal capacity. So perhaps this is his way of dealing with that challenge of living within human limits in a way that feels truthful and free.
My toddler, C, points to pictures and tries rolling the words around his mouth: “motorcycle” “dump truck” “bath time.” He has a clear desire to join the world of language, to be able to express himself, to be initiated into the club of communicating human beings. It is pretty mind blowing to witness this process, to really listen, and watch him making his way over this significant bridge. “Kisses” “Ball” “Spoon” “Baby sleeping” “I don’t want that.” C has learned that some words or phrases he says will elicit hysterical laughter from his big brother, like when he points to his own little backside and says matter-of-factly “big butt.” He seems to keep these phrases highlighted in his mind to be pulled out at critical times.
The other night, my husband showed me a YouTube clip of Noam Chomsky that went along with my latest wonderings about limits. Chomsky argues that even the most free-thinking artists and poets are still creating inside some sort of structure or limits. And that this frame is what makes a poem so beautiful and differentiates it from free association. It makes me wonder that if we didn’t have those limits of life (impeding death, illness, pain) would we operate in some sort of free association living? And what would that look like—a meaningless jumble of disjointed activities, unending maniacal euphoria? And that’s one of the reasons I love my husband so much, and why I would be so alone without him. He can join me in my weird thoughts and understand that I need complexity to keep on living. And I think he needs it too. Maybe we all do. And at the same time, what we need can also be so very, very simple. Like he can hold me late at night when I’m crying. Or we can share a belly laugh, which is a type of freedom, when C thoughtfully points his pudgy finger in the air announces, “booger.”