Being and What It Entails

from The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

For thirty-five years she'd been inspecting her corn with Mendelian patience, receiving no encouragement or feedback on her work, just showing up every day, involved in her own process of discovery, forgotten by the world and not caring. And now, finally, this, the Nobel, the vindication of her life's work, and though she seemed pleased enough, you could see that it hadn't been the Prize she was after at all. MacGregor's reward had been the work itself, the daily doing of it, the achievement made of a million unremarkable days.

This is how a life means--not in the light of the expectation of others or of our own unreasonable expectations of ourselves, but through following a passion that allows us to BE in a way that no other thing can.  A million unremarkable days that may lead to an overwhelming question--or it may lead to silence.

We fail to understand that meaning isn't something you make by willing to make it, but meaning is something that is found in the quotidian, in the every day, in the counting and recording of grains of corn, thousands and thousands of ears of field corn over years and years and years of observations leads eventually to an essential understanding--transposons. MacGregor in the book is McClintock in real life and Eugenides makes of the life a kind of memorial of work.

Too many spend too much time "protesting too much."  We make meaning that is meaningless--we study only ourselves in the mirror and mourn at the discovery that there is nothing left to discover.  But if we learn simply to be, to live each moment as that moment allows and make of it what it can be, then all the rest of this worry and fret falls away from us and we become something different than what we would be.  The urge to meaning is not meaning in itself, and when we leave it behind, like all the other desires that point the way home, we learn to be and become as we can be and the acceptance or rejection of the world becomes an after-fact--another datum that may accumulate given enough time into a meaning, but will more likely crumble away along with all the other daily idiocies we allow to derail us.


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