Of Lemons and Lemonade

by mkriegh

I am on a journey of descent. It is not important to say how I came to be on this journey or to describe my particular journey of descent in any specific way. Most of us encounter this kind of journey many times during our lives. The journey from birth to death is a long bell curve of ascent, summit and then descent. Along the way there are many ups and downs, smaller ascents, lower summits and shorter descents.

The kind of descents I am talking about are not fun. They are not downhill sleigh rides or exhilarating downhill tumbles where we let gravity have its way with us. They are descents into a place that is less than what was before. Less resources, less confidence and belief in ourselves, less happiness. It’s a substantial demonstration of how less is not more. Less is loss and this sense of loss, fear of where the bottom might be and fear, ultimately, of perishing, can be overwhelming.

These descents are punctuated by islands of respite and moments of uplift. Step outside and see a crystal clear night sky with a sliver of a moon and Venus shinning brightly and we are transported for a moment to a place of beauty, wonder and peace. The moment is fleeting, however, and quickly the descent emotions pile in on us again.

What do we do in these descent times? I suppose we should start by recognizing there will be a bottom and that the odds are strong that we will get through it. Sometimes this helps, often it does not or it does not help for long. We are too busy telling ourselves that we must have done something to deserve this fall. Or perhaps there was something we did not do. Or there are many things we did and did not do. It’s times like this that can lead us to want to believe in a higher power that can be petitioned for a reversal, or that has a purpose for this descent. The need for higher powers grows out of fear, desperation and a need to make sense of things.

The universe, however, is a cause and effect sort of place where the collection of forces and materials present determine the outcome and there is no grand plan, just an unfolding. We unfold in certain ways, in certain directions, in certain places, with certain people. Whether we get lemons or lemonade depends on the circumstances, which include us and our actions, but are not only about us and our actions. Deserving people often get lemons, just as undeserving ones often get lemonade. Fairness is not a universal concept. It is a localized concept, site specific. The ascents and descents we get are not universal rewards and punishments, though there is a tendency to experience them that way.

That is the strange thing about the universe. Universally speaking, there is no right or wrong, reward or punishment, success or failure. There is just this incessant unfolding. And yet, there is this localized thing called humanity contained within it and within which these concepts and the emotions flowing from them flourish. How does a social context where these concepts have significance unfold in a universe where one thing leads to another and good people get lemons while bad ones get lemonade?