Sunbeams and Sisyphus
A non-climate musing
As late afternoon bleeds into early evening, sunlight streams through my bedroom window spilling onto the sheets. White stripes of light are broken up by the slats of the blinds. Sunbeams and shadows alternate, contrasting one another in a concerted scheme to astound me. The title of “God rays” is deserved. Out of focus but within view I see flecks of dust illuminated, floating by with no specific direction. The play of the light on the walls makes the whole room radiate. Brightness abounds but there’s a doomed sense of impermanence. The unshakeable knowledge that the sun must set accentuates everything, but also adds a teetering anxiety.
Curled up in the covers I sit stunned by the splendor of the moment. For years I’ve tried to appreciate the beauty of these fleeting minutes and I still haven’t come close. There’s an overwhelming sense of wonderment, of actualized contentment washing over me. I want to gulp it all down, not let a single drop go to waste, but the desire to do so creates the opposite effect. I’m only able to absorb a fraction of the experience, helplessly watching myself squander away the rest, unable to do justice to the moment. Time after time this sequence plays out, always resulting in self-disappointment. This wistful guilt goes beyond just the waning sunlight.
Looking out the window as the early evening takes hold, I realize I’m really staring at the opulence of my life. It’s not the sunbeams but the very circumstances of my existence making me awestruck. I’m aware of how unequivocally privileged I am, but up till now I’ve never made the connection to this recurrence. My Sisyphean effort to fully soak in the beauty of the moment is in reality an effort to wholly acknowledge my life’s abundance. And the anxiety towards the fading light is actually the fear that I won’t have cherished the “good times” before they invariably end.
Turning away from the window, I look inwards. What’s driving this obsession to properly appreciate my circumstances?
I’ve come to see it as the bare minimum to counterweight the fact that none of what I have is earned. Something like 90% of my life trajectory was determined before I had a choice. Place of birth, period of human history, parents, genes, attachment style, and countless other advantages all exerted their influence prior to the establishment of my sense of self. And even those habits I take pride in claiming as accomplishments are realistically expressions of those initial advantages compounding relentlessly into the present. Who else could I be other than myself, no one. This realization can’t be unseen and either leads to existential guilt or rage. I’m in the group where guilt is the burden, and even then, it’s nothing in comparison to the struggles of so many. To simplify, I don’t want to take what I have for granted because that would be a truly depraved act.
I now also realize there won’t be some magical day when I can totally soak in this sunlit moment, it’s just too expansive. The feeling of not living up to the spectacle will stay ever present, but will also guide the way I live. Going beyond the bare minimum means working to make life a little less predetermined. It means guaranteeing that society provides each individual with at least a decent starting set of circumstances along with a genuinely fair shot at deciding their future. The pre-decided percentage might not go to 0% in my time, but at least it might be rolled back to 50%, maybe 40%? The numbers are meaningless but the intention is important. My North Star is to be a part of movements that ultimately enable more people to sit in wonderment staring at a sun-striped bedroom, free of worry and full of contentment.
A new section I’m experimenting with to provide more context to my posts.
Below are some photos I’ve taken over the years in those fleeting minutes, trying to record the moment as it happened. As with all photos, they only partially capture reality. The magic is definitely missing. In writing this and realizing that I have these photos, I myself am surprised at how enthralling I find this brief span of time. Something that happens on any sunny day.
It feels strange to post this during the pandemic. I worry that it may seem boastful or insensitive when that is not the intention. I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am to spend all my time safe at home without the risk of losing my job. My experience of the pandemic thus far only amplifies the absurdity of my fortunate situation.
It feels even more strange to post this given the murder of George Floyd this week. There’s the obvious rage that comes from seeing something so horrific, but also a feeling of twisted guilt knowing that such violence is unlikely to visit me. In trying to keep with the theme of this post, I’ve made a contribution to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund which supports litigation in the areas of poverty and justice, education, voting rights, fair employment, capital punishment, and administration of criminal justice. If any readers feel inclined to do the same, I’ve included more information below.
Details on NAACP Legal Defense Fund