The Bootless

February 24, 2012 | 9 comments
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Most of what is given is never received. Most of what is possible goes unrealized. And many feet never find a shoe.

True, life presses on (except when it doesn’t). But when it moves, it moves in fits and false starts and, just like Darwin said, most of its spendthrift variations end up serving no end in particular.

Call this surplus the bootless.

Much of life is bootless.

Much of life is good for nothing in particular. It’s waiting in traffic, walking from here to there, forgetting what you were looking for, staring out your window, sitting in silence, shooting the breeze, watching a commercial, surfing the web, making a pun, picking up stix, wandering by the water cooler, lingering, spinning in a circle, most of what I think about most of the time, etc.

Efficiency does not appear to be the name of the game. And the fact that everything could be useful doesn’t change the fact that most of it isn’t.

Do your work, of course. Keep things moving as you’re able. But even here, part of the price of this work will always be the bootless.

That’s fine.

God has his purposes but these purposes certainly don’t seem to require that everything be purposeful. Purpose charts its course through the bootless like a thin black crack across the face of a granite cliff.

This is enough.

Hang on to that crack in the face of the given as you scale its heights, but don’t despise the substance of the bootless rock that holds you aloft.

Grow to love the bootless. Not, of course, for your sake. But just because.

Otherwise, much of your life will fail not only to be good for something. It will fail to be just plain good.

9 Responses to The Bootless

  1. Hunter on February 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Wonderful. Over the years, I’ve slowly backed away from trying to ascribe meaning where there apparently isn’t any. But life is still good.

    Your image of the rock (and crack in the cliff) is brilliant.

  2. Robert C. on February 24, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Adam, I esp. like how your post complements the song Boots by the Killers (and, at least in some sense, the story of Brandon Flowers…).

  3. JennyW on February 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Nice, Adam. I like the inversion of having a life good “for” something into having a good life by getting rid of the “for.” Seems to capture a distinct understanding of good, not as utility or morality, but rather as a mode of being devoid of grasping.

  4. SteveP on February 24, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Ah then, Huck Finn was right. I’ve always suspected it.

  5. John C. on February 25, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Adam,
    Many Mormons will point to the church giving them a sense of purpose and of finding meaning in that purpose. This appears to be a critique of that notion. Am I misreading? Or is it saying that this purpose is possible, but that it is possibly just another thing in God’s eye?

  6. Adam Miller on February 25, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Good question, John C. Clearly we find purpose and meaning in the gospel. But I think that, even on the gospel’s own account, purpose and meaning are only one part of the picture. And, it seems to me, they’re not the biggest part of the picture. We have to have purpose and meaning, but I think we generally overrate their importance in life and the part they play in redemption.

  7. Jon on February 26, 2012 at 9:50 am

    A wise man once taught me to see purpose and meaning in the apparent purposeless that surrounds me. To see that purpose didn’t snake through the purposeless like a thin crack on a cliff face, but that purpose and meaning are the cliff itself. To see that purpose and meaning weren’t a small part of the picture, but that they saturated the picture. That redemption lay in seeing the purpose and meaning in everything – to become conscious of the light I breathe and the living water I bleed:

    “Life, like light, is manifest in everything I do. Can I see it? It is the air I breathe. It is the water in which I swim. It is the earth on which I stand. Jesus points: ‘Look at yourself eating breakfast! Can you see the life? It’s plain as day! This is you, living!’ ‘I only see me eating breakfast,’ I say. ‘Please stop playing around and give me life!’ Jesus, patient, points again: ‘Look at yourself waiting in line at the DMV! Can you see the life? It’s plain as day! This is you, living!’ ‘I only see the waiting,’ I say, head in my hands. ‘I only see the waiting.’ Etc., etc., etc. But I am alive and life is manifest in everything that I do. Good or bad, just or unjust, compassionate or selfish, pleasant or painful, special or mundane, all of my actions are saturated with it. Life shines in it all. * * * I seek life but I don’t find it. Whither should I go? ‘If you are dying of thirst,’ Jesus says, ‘then come to me and drink.’ I come. ‘Now look,’ Jesus says and points again. I follow his finger. He’s pointing at me. In fact, he’s pointing right at my belly button. There is a river of living water flowing out of my belly. ‘Why are you so thirsty?’ he asks. ‘You are looking all around for light in a world that is already lit. You are looking all around for water when you’re awash in it. You are looking all around for life when in your belly there is a roaring torrent of it.’ He’s right. The sound of life’s red, rushing waters reverberates in my ears. I close my eyes, touch my navel, and feel that river of sensation that is always – always – humming in my bones from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. And there, at the heart of this river of sensation, is just what Jesus said: pneuma, spirit, breath. Re-spiration. I exhale. The blood pounds in my temples. I pause. The rest of the Lord. Then I swallow another lungful of light. It’s Easter. That was no gardener after all.”

  8. Adam Miller on February 26, 2012 at 10:09 am

    Touche, Jon! That citation is an immense kindness. I will, in all seriousness, feel the force of it’s kindness for days. Thank you.

    Though I’m suspicious of your “wise” man ;)

    For my part, though, I think that these are two sides of the same coin. In both cases, life manifests its brightness and glory when my goals and purposes are surrendered to the grace of what is, right now, reverberating in my bones.

  9. RW on March 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    On His Blindness
    John Milton (1608-74). After going blind

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one Talent which is death to hide
    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest He returning chide,
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
    They also serve who only stand and wait.

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