I am fighting my way through A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, all 895 pages of it. It actually reads a bit easier than I had expected. On more than one occasion, I have picked up something by Nietzsche or Plato, only to find that I couldn't begin to make sense of much of anything I was reading and then choose to abandon it.
Russell, however, writes in a way that is much easier for me to comprehend. It's still a bit over my head, but the ride is quite enjoyable nonetheless. The thing is that I'm not sure I'm ready for it. I may have to thumb through it a bit now and really try to give it a better shot at a later date. The philosophers who move me and whose words resonate with me most aren't in this book. I don't read their words and feel as if I am studying for a test. They are today's singers. They are on your iPod or are found on myspace.com. Or if you are lucky, you can find their CDs at Phonoluxe or some other used CD store.
I come home from my workdays and my great reward is sitting down at my computer and listening to singer-songwriters doing their thing. They ask the same questions that a lot of the great philosophers seem to ask. And I hang on every word. Why are we here? Are we truly responsible for our actions? Who knows us better than we know ourselves?
My poets and philosophers are relative unknowns like Geoff Baker, Peter Himmelman, and Michael McDermott. They are contemplative and they are so good at communicating their ponderings. I listen to them and I don't feel like a corporate drone. I feel like matter trying hard to matter. I struggle to look past the Coke and Nike commercials that permeate our world, close my ears to the noise, and try to catch a glimpse of my purpose in life.
Peter Himmelman sings, "the most precious things are always in disguise." And I think of my current state of mind:
I am guilty of letting myself get overwhelmed by my overwhelming ability to work a lot of hours each week for a surprisingly low amount of money. This does nothing to help the financial strength of my family. For whatever reason, I am a seemingly intelligent man stuck in the apparent safety of an entry-level position. (Anyone want to help me put my resume together?) With a mortgage to pay and moving expenses upcoming, with gas prices high and savings account low, and with 30 miles between work and home in an old car each day and night, I worry all of the time of financial collapse. I worry about who I am to my family and how I rate as a provider. Sometimes the weight of my worry is all that I can feel.
But this morning, I took thirty minutes to lay on my bed and listen to Geoff Baker on my bathroom CD player before leaving for work. My wife came in to lie down next to me and rub my back while my mind was a million miles away, taking in the songs and thinking about life. Then my two year old ascended the stairs and announced himself in our doorway with a smile and a big "Hi guys!" He entered the room and played with a focus on nothing but happiness. And for the next fifteen minutes or so, I was at peace. If my question was, "what is contentment?," then this was my answer. Paradise found. And Geoff Baker sang "How I Remember You Now."