“Inventing the Reality of the World”
Mexican poet, writer, diplomat, and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz writes that “Tomorrow, we shall have to invent, once more, the reality of the world.”
Octavio Paz was born in Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution. His father was a lawyer for Emiliano Zapata, and following the revolution he remained active in agrarian reform. Those early years for Octavio Paz were turbulent times in Mexico, and each day seemed to bring a new reality, a new president, new alliances, new sufferings, during a civil war in which almost a million Mexicans were killed (out of a population of 15 million).
But all of us have to invent, each day, “the reality of the world.” Children, in play as well as in life, create a ”reality” that seems to serve, and often protect, at least for the immediate day in which they find themselves. Adults, likewise, create a reality each morning that may or may not be consistent with the reality of the previous morning.
Sometimes circumstances press heavily upon us. I remember leaving Fruita, Colorado, to head toward a Mexican orphanage on the Sonoran desert…early on the morning of September 11, 2001. Pulling out of the drive, in high spirits because I was once again headed to Mexico, I saw a neighbor rush out and run toward me to tell me a plane had just crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Wow! I thought. I thanked him, turned on the car radio, and headed south. A few minutes later, of course, a second plane had crashed into the other tower, and our world was forever changed.
As I drove through Utah and then into northern Arizona, I watched gas prices steadily rising, until by evening there were radio reports of gas at $5 a gallon that competed with the news of the rising body count, estimated by the time I turned off the radio to be over 3,500. When I arrived at the familiar orphanage, La Casa Esperanza, the following day, the whole world was different to me, and therefore the orphanage looked different to me.
Every day is a new world, a new reality. A couple of weeks ago we witnessed a melt-down in the world financial markets, precipitated by a drop of over 8% in the Asian markets, and those who sat down at their computers that morning were creating a new reality for themselves out of the external reality that had just been imposed upon them. Perhaps a reality that included significantly less money. And on the news this morning, a New York restaurateur has expanded his pizza reality to include his new Luxury Pizza, a 12-inch pizza topped with caviar, lobster, créme fraiche and chives, priced at only $1,000. And the family that today will receive word that their soldier son stationed in Iraq will not be returning with his comrades, in fact will never return, will have to re-invent itself, recognizing that it can never return to the family it was only a day ago.
As we age, of course, we have new realities pressed upon us: we are no longer in the work force, no longer in fine health, we are facing the loss of old buddies, of loved ones, of spouses who perhaps had been with us for many decades. My dad, as I write this, sits alone in his assisted-living home, where a kind staff does its best to make his life a reasonably pleasant one. In spite of losing his beloved wife last year, in spite of no longer living in the house he and his cousin built back in 1941, in spite of no longer being active in corporate or community affairs, in spite of no longer being a church leader, in spite of no longer being able to hear well, in spite of no longer being able to do what he loved best —working with exotic woods, crafting beautiful bowls—my dad faces each day as he always has, often with a rather remarkable enthusiasm considering his circumstances.
He has always loved collecting quotations that express a positive approach to life. Perhaps these Mark Twain lines fit a little: “Age is an issue of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” My dad will turn 93 this summer.
Many senior citizens have huge difficulties with short-term memory, and they have, then, not only the problem of living on after so much has been lost, but also with the problem of fighting to retain even a simple awareness of what just transpired moments before, those moments themselves lost almost immediately. They have to ´invent,ª once more, the reality of the world, struggling to put forth a sensible picture of themselves, even though each day they wake with a little less.
Calamity Jane, that old cussing, tobacco-chewing, courageous woman of the Wild West summed it up well for most of us: “Every day takes figgerin’ out all over again how to live.”