When we are born, with our first cry and gasping breath of air, we begin a lifelong quest to find our place in the world. A place where we have what we need. Where pain can’t reach. Where we can “be” without having to fight for every crumb.
We enter this life confused and often leave just as befuddled as we were on our first day. But we are usually much more tired and considerably more jaded by the end, having lost hope of ever building something meaningful or of leaving our mark behind. Weary of the battle in our futile attempt to find a small place where we can plant our feet, that we can call our own and where we can be safe from the hardships of life, we slip and slide through the days, trying to navigate around traps and trickery, attacks and trials. We learn fairly quickly that no matter how much or little we gamble, no matter what chances we take or how safe we play it, the house always wins. We are born and we will die. We arrive empty-handed and will be forced to leave the same way.
In between, we are frantically carving. Carving out some semblance of an existence.
In fact, we spend a good portion of our days seeking to create a small space in life in which we can exist without too much disruption or pain. We spend a considerable amount of time carving a life out of emptiness and despair. We tell ourselves that what we do matters. That we matter. Our contribution matters. That we are creating a legacy of which we can be proud. But in our quiet and lonely moments, we know better. The truth becomes all too real. We have nothing worthwhile to offer and will have even less to leave behind us when our time runs out. We are one of millions who exist only to die, having accomplished nothing much, if anything, of lasting value. The world goes on. It leaves us behind as if we never existed.
Very few of us are remembered beyond a handful of years after our death.
All the time we spend carving out a tiny bubble that offers us minimal protection and that allows us to breath and live, life is carving away on us. Carving away pieces of our heart. Carving lines on our face. Whittling away at our hope. Our dreams. Until there is nothing left.
We go on vacations to “relax” because the stress of trying to keep what little we have makes us sick and keeps us up at night. We take up hobbies and spend way too much money on entertainment. We sit, playing game after game of solitaire to pass time, never realizing until it’s too late that the short time we were allotted has been whittled away until nothing is left but dust.
We think we are making something of ourselves. We think we are creating a worthwhile life. We carve and carve…careers, clothes, houses, cars, power, building up bank accounts and stacking up possessions as if we could take it all with us. We work long hours at jobs we dislike to “provide” for ourselves and those who are important to us for reasons me may never fully understand. We constantly seek a better address, a more important job, authority and recognition. We attempt to carve something beautiful out of our busy lives. But in the quiet of the night when the emptiness is magnified to the point it can no longer be ignored, even we don’t believe in the beauty of our creation.
For all the whittling we do as we try to make the best of our circumstances and opportunities, for all the maneuvering and positioning, no matter what our intent or what level our integrity, we all end up at the same place. Death takes the final slice of us, cutting off our breath. It turns out the lights as it carries us away into the darkness.
We think we are creating a masterpiece. That is what we tell ourselves as we pat ourselves on the back and soak up each “success.” Yet our masterpiece is but a tiny, insignificant dot in the fabric of time. We can deceive ourselves into believing we are something magnificent and important, but reality always has the last laugh. Our fantasies are no match for reality’s chisel.
We think we are the carvers. We tell ourselves this because we carve a life out of nothing. But it comes to nothing, and so it is nothing. And at the end, we learn that we were not the master craftsmen we believed ourselves to be. Life has whittled us into a shape and form we never intended. With our final breath, we discover we have created only sawdust in spite of all our hard work and backbreaking effort. We’re left holding only scraps and slivers and splinters. This is when we finally see that we are indeed nothing but dust..and to dust we all eventually, inevitably return.