Human Existence: In Memory of Donald D. Edgerton

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If you are thinking systemically, our lives kind of go like this: you are born, you spend your entire life working really, really hard to gain an education, a reputation, and money, and then one day, it’s all over, and you no longer exist.

So, what’s the point of living? There must be something more.

Last week, I watched The Theory of Everything, and couldn’t help but ponder this question. There MUST be something more, and Stephen Hawkings is an excellent example of why we exist.

Thoughts, the essence of what sets us apart from every other living creature, are an abstract concept; something that does not necessarily exist in physical terms. We can’t see anyone’s thoughts, and because we are visual creatures, and the intangible causes unrest, we find physical ways to represent what is going on in our heads: through writing, through art, through charts and diagrams and graphs, through creating theories and stories and equations. We try to take something that scientifically cannot be measured or physically extracted, and find a way to make it exist. Emotions, for example, are thoughts that we encourage physical manifestations of. I remember being in a Mayan exhibit in Paris, and looking at a statue that had a box carved in the middle with a bunch of nails sticking in it; the idea was that, if something was bothering you, you would write it on a piece of paper, stick it in the box, and hammer a nail into the statue; and, I remember thinking to myself, “that really is no different than our current cultural practices of nailing your sins to a cross, or throwing a regret into a fire, or beating up a punching bag to release some anger”; all physical manifestations of emotions, which are thoughts. Experiences are another form of thoughts that we try to contain through stories or pictures; we write narratives and plot lines, songs and poems, post pictures on our social media in hopes of capturing an experience–a perspective of the world that we hope can live on. Or, in the case of Stephen Hawkings, we think of theories, of patterns of life, and create ways to represent that; we might look at Stephen Hawkings, and notice that his physical body is completely debilitated, but his mind–a separate entity–still thrives on. And, the computer that speaks for him represents that.

And, we do all of these things frantically, because human existence is about finding a way for your essence to outlast your physical self. I work really hard at school, get a high school and college diploma, so that my name has an opportunity to be printed on a certificate that can be hung on a wall, and my hard work can be manifested in a physical way. I work really, really hard in my career, so that I can obtain a few titles (‘Employee of the Month’, ‘Leader in Sales’, ‘Training Manager’), and we try to put a little bit of our essence in our companies so that, when it comes time for us to retire, or we move on, a piece of us still stays. And, we work really, really hard our whole lives to save money, to invest in stocks, to get raises and promotions, so that we can buy a nice house, shop for a nice car, go on exotic vacations–so that we can physically represent our money managing skills. Or, when we die, we erect this massive burial plots, design these unique headstones, so that, when our physical bodies no longer exist, our essence can still linger on. As humans, because we are visual, we strive to manifest our existence in these physical ways.

However, I am keen to believe that our essence also exists in a pool of human consciousness–something that IS unseen, but still felt; we live in a fabric of human existence that, throughout time, slowly assembles, slowly disintegrates, slowly threads through our consciousness and builds our relationship with the world. A few months ago, I was stranded in New York City, and was riding the subway train to meet a friend. I couldn’t help but notice a clear unspoken, and unregulated, racial division in the air: despite the fact that we have progressed from Civil Rights Movement, and we try really, really hard to preach equality, there is still something embedded in the consciousness of American society that these are rules for black people, and these are rules for white people. Or, in thinking about the construction of teams; last week, I judged a mock dance tryout, where thirty girls from all different teams came, and by watching the dancing of each girl, I could predict which team they came from; because there is some kind of essence, some kind of unspoken, built style that each team represents. Or, in thinking about families: that often times, families have traits that carry on throughout generations, despite the fact that you perhaps never interacted with your great-great-grandma.

My grandpa passed away this weekend, and as the family gathered, pulled out pictures, and began reminiscing on the great man that he was, I couldn’t help but think about how far his essence will exceed his physical existence; I never realized how much of his essence is embedded in each one of us.

For he gave us all an eye of adventure, and a free spirit: stories about the time grandpa skiied through the moguls, climbed the 14ers, jumped off the roof are paralleled with our stories of diving off the pool slide, racing down the dirt roads, exploring the great outdoors.

For he gifted us all with a biting sense of sarcasm: It is true that you could never take grandpa seriously. He had us convinced that there was a monster in his basement (that went ‘meow), the raisins in the bread were actually bugs, and his primary mode of existence was to piss grandma off.

For he shared his stubbornness: I remember a few years ago, my grandparents were selling their house, and my dad and I went over to help them clean up their backyard. When we arrived, we couldn’t find grandpa anywhere. About fifteen minutes later, he came stumbling down the backyard steps, bags of mulch in his hands. Despite the fact that he (a) didn’t have a driver’s license, (b) couldn’t see, and (c) could barely walk, he still needed to be part of the landscaping. But, of course, this was a completely predictable behavior, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.

For he always lived selflessly: As we went through pictures today, I noticed all the parts of my life my grandpa was present for; my birthdays, my dance recitals, my graduations. When my parents first divorced, it was my grandpa who picked us up and walked us to McDonald’s. When my brother was thrown out of daycare for throwing bark at the teacher, it was my grandpa who became the babysitter. When our family needed their basements finished, trees planted, floors tiled, it was my grandpa who always showed up. He was a man of few words, and was always donating to others.

For he left us with each other: The best relationships I have with people are ones that endured trauma, and there is no doubt that our family has had it’s fair share of trials and tribulations. We fight passionately, we are stubborn, hot-headed, opinionated. My grandpa silently, patiently, wisely endured it all. And, while we mourn his death, we are also realizing that, despite the dysfunction and chaos at times, there is an immense amount of love built into the fabric of the Edgerton women. It is an interesting dynamic to say the least, and it was my grandpa who brought us all together.

While our hearts will always be a little broken, family gatherings will never be the same, and we will miss this amazing man immensely, the essence of Donald D. Edgerton will always exist within our collective consciousness, and for that, he will never be gone (and, we can’t wait to see what kind of practical jokes you intend to play)

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