Once or twice a year something triggers a mild existential melancholy where I lose track of my place in the world. I was once told that this is a common feature of growing older.
An innocuous observation the other day briefly shifted my consciousness into that mode. I had stopped by the local Menards big-box hardware store to buy some wall mounting brackets and anchor bolts so I could install a shelf near the back door of my little house.
An elderly man dressed in an old barn-coat, a plaid, flannel work shirt, and carpenter’s jeans was perusing the brackets display. He didn’t make a selection but walked away. A few moments later, I noticed the oldster admiring the woodworking tools. Then, as I stood in line at one of the check-out lanes, the man arrived behind me holding a package of AA batteries.
The old guy struck up a conversation with me while we waited. He mentioned that he likes to come into the store every day to just look around. He pointed at the batteries and said that it’s unusual for him to actually buy something. The man said he cannot do handyman work anymore because he’s suffering from arthritis and fainting spells. He made a forced smile and stated that he really missed doing useful work for others. He quickly apologized for “dumping” his problems on me. I replied that I didn’t mind at all.
The conveyor belt advanced my items to the cashier then I paid for them and left the store. As I walked across the massive parking lot towards my car, a twinge of existential melancholy slipped into being. I looked at the bag of new brackets and screws and asked myself, “I wonder if Menards has something to help me wall-mount my existential crisis.”
The feeling came over me because I mentally pictured myself as that sad, retired handyman. I saw myself as an old codger stopping by the hardware store each day to reminisce about the past and to admire new tools. Would that be the extent of my social life someday?
“We are always doing something to cover up our basic existential anxiety. Some people live that way until the day they die.”–Zen teacher Joko Beck
My mind flashes to an opposite scenario. What about Elon Musk? Does he ever have existential crises? Certainly the idea is absurd, but it does have some merit. Maybe people like Musk are so hyper-driven in life because they have frequent existential crises.
The technique I used to snap out of last year’s existential crisis was simple. I reflected on the joy my career had brought into my life. I then decided to wear my 30-year radio station award ring again. It’s still a perfect fit physically. Does it still mentally fit?
The thought occurs that I should pound a nail into the wall in order for me to wall-mount my award ring. That seems like a tacky way to display the ring. Perhaps a pair of small wall brackets and a tiny shelf to hold a display box is in order. On second thought, no. I won’t wall mount my existential crisis. I’ll continue to wear it on my left ring finger.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers a favorite Jean-Paul Sartre quote. “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”