If I grow a garden and nobody but me notices it, is that garden a waste of time?
Your answer will likely be, "No, of course not!" And it's right there that I'm going to warn you to shut your mouth and not be a trite suburban and actually think about it. Because for most of you, the answer should be, judging by your actions and the example of your life, "Yes."
Taking the time to do anything like grow a garden or a blog or a YouTube channel or a writing career without the promise of even a single soul giving a damn that you're doing such a thing holds most people off from doing those things. Oh, the effort might be made initially, but will in all likelihood be given up in short order. The seeds are never bought, let alone planted; the blog is abandoned after a handful of posts; likewise for the YouTube channel; and the writing career is found two years later in a dust-covered shoebox under the bed.
Next come the rationalizations for the choice to abandon it--whatever "it" is. You've heard them all, I'm sure; and I'm sure you've come up with them yourself. I can say without hesitation that not so long ago I made my fair share of them.
I won't belabor the point by posting the more popular of them here. You've got a brain, ostensibly; I'm sure a couple of them are rattling around in the wide open spaces in it right now.
I'm pretty sure that as far as the RV park we live in goes, I'm seen as the local eccentric or even lunatic. I take care of the local wild birds here by providing hummingbird feeders, water, a regular seed feeder, and a finch feeder. And for the third year in a row, I have grown a garden.
It isn't a "practical" garden. I don't grow fruits or vegetables. I grow wildflowers. As I write during the day, I take many breaks to look at them, and to watch the birds, of which probably two dozen different species throughout the year visit, including blue jays, finches, robins, sparrows, quail, hummingbirds, grosbeaks, blackbirds, crows, pigeons, towhees, and many others. I've begun to notice how each species reacts to others of its species and to those that are not, how each eats, argues, approaches the feeders, bathes, flies, etc. I've begun to notice their migration patterns as well.
But the humans who walk by either don't notice the splash of sudden color or the constant goings-on; or, if they do, they glance disdainfully for half a moment in the general direction of what caught their attention. Which is to say, they didn't actually notice anything.
Growing a garden ... or growing a writing career. The shoebox under the bed gathers dust. It's doubtful that when you eventually get around to looking at it again, you'll even bother opening the lid before chucking it.
The only resource you can genuinely claim as your own is time. It is measured by the clock on the wall or on the bedstand or the perfectly synchronized digital display on your smartphone. Much more accurately, it is measured between one beat of your heart and the next. It is finite. And someday it will run out.
Want to scare the shit out of people? I just wrote the scariest plot possible of any story for any sentient being anywhere in the universe. It's so terrifying that your mind, in all likelihood, has already shunted it into the Yeah, Whatever file you've got for just such occasions. It's so terrifying that even though you read the words, you short-circuited the path to full comprehension of those words directly into that file, which you store in the darkest, hardest-to-reach recesses of your mind, and which you strongly resent having to fetch whenever assholes like me bring it up again.
Popular media does its part to brainwash you that keeping that file, keeping it hidden, and laughing derisively at the Plot, which I call it, is normal, healthy, and functional. It's the "practical" thing to do. It's the "moral" thing to do. It's the "sane" thing to do.
Thump-thump ... thump-thump ... thump-thump ...
Dust gathers on the shoebox, and in your spirit. The garden isn't grown. Nobody would give a shit about your writing or some stupid fucking flowers anyway, so what's the point?
Have you ever watched a person you loved more than life itself die a slow death from a terminal disease? I have.
Thump-thump ... thump-thump ... thump-thump ...
The Plot is so terrifying that our society is specifically structured to ignore it and punish those who refuse to file it away. Our educational system avoids it almost entirely. We don't share the Plot with children. We consider it grossly inappropriate. We don't share it with our family. If we do, we're either totally drunk or high or suffering what is popularly termed a "mid-life crisis." In any case, doing so isn't appreciated; we're shunned very quickly, or yelled at, or laughed at. If we persist, we will lose those friends or urged by them to get into therapy. That's just before we get dumped anyway. After all, we've already crossed the line.
We don't even share the Plot with the dying, with those not long for this world. We trot out platitudes instead about the afterlife, about Heaven, about going on when the final heartbeat is felt, when the interval following is eternal and the chest is clutched and the face goes blue before that final exhalation.
They are cleaning out your bedroom. They discover the shoebox. Someone opens it--let's say your daughter.
"I didn't know Dad wrote anything!" she remarks, blowing off the dust and shaking the earwigs off an unbound sheaf of papers. She sits at your desk, which now belongs to her as stipulated in the will, and begins to read through some of it while her brother looks on.
"Who cares?" he demands, glancing impatiently around. "We've got to move all this shit out of here by next Thursday!"
She shakes her head. "It's not too bad, really. Whenever he got drunk, he'd go on and on about wanting to be a novelist. Remember?"
Her brother snorts. "Unfortunately, yes. Thank fuck he didn't follow through! It's not exactly a practical choice, now is it?"
She reads a couple of paragraphs more, laughing at the clunky narrative and descriptions. She jams the papers back in, thoughtlessly wrinkling them, closes the box, and sets it in a corner. Later that day she picks it up without another thought and stuffs it into the big black trash bag already almost too full to take any more garbage--which is exactly what she thinks of it and its contents.
Against eternity, every single heartbeat that dad had during his life was worth infinite value. Each and every one. That's the bottom-line truth of the Plot. That's the bottom-line fact of existence itself. It's as true for you as it was for him.
To avoid it, people appeal to the afterlife. To Heaven. To eternal life.
But this man denied his infinitely valuable heartbeats every single day in an effort to fit in, in the name of "practicality," in the pursuit of false idols--cash, property, status, a home in the 'burbs, a mortgage, a cubicle, a late-model car, a flat-screen TV. And on and on.
He was a Christian, titularly, and so his surviving kin insist at his funeral that he was "saved," which means he got a pass from death, from oblivion. He got a ticket to Heaven. To eternal life. To more
thump-thump ... thump-thump ... thump-thump ...
If he was a particularly bad man, some might think he went to Hell. But that too is eternal life, and so isn't nearly as terrifying as oblivion, as nonexistence. I'm fairly confident it doesn't exist.
I don't consider myself a Christian. Not, at least, what most people today think of when they think, "He's a Christian!"
I believe Jesus lived, yes. I believe he died (of course). He was a revolutionary and a healer. He spoke truth to power, and for that he was tortured and killed. His philosophy, where it wasn't corrupted by later editors and the early Church, and by the used-car salesmen posing as preachers today, is astonishing and beautiful.
Beyond that, I need nothing else from the man. I don't need the Resurrection, for example. I don't need the miracles. I don't need the bluster and bullshit. Most of all, I don't need the rules, morals, taboos, and the glittering, corporate, high-rent-for-heavily-indebted-suburban-suckers consumer outlets called "churches" that they flock to Sundays in order to hide from the Plot.
I'm a son of God. So are you, if you too are male. If you are female, you are a daughter of God. It doesn't matter what culture you're from. It doesn't matter what you believe, or how you were raised. It is what it is.
Jesus himself talked about the Plot. But he didn't call it the Plot. He wasn't a writer.
He was, however, a walker. He walked all over the place. And so he didn't call it the Plot; he called it the Gate and the difficult path that lies beyond it. Here is what he said:
Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leadeth to suffering,
and those who go through it are many.
But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leadeth to true life,
and those who find it are few.
People who hide from the Plot believe he was talking about being a Christian. Choosing to be a Christian means going through the "narrow gate." Except, demonstrably and provably, it doesn't. Walking the difficult path means walking the "difficult path" of being a Christian.
It refers to the Plot. It refers to following one's calling, one's purpose, no matter what; and that most won't in the name of "practicality" and a million other excuses. Most go through the wide gate and take the easy way. It is a wide, wide highway, flat, endless, gray, choked with roadkill and populated with billions, all comfortably numb as they slope their way from one tired heartbeat to the next.
The narrow gate and the difficult way after?
There is an afterlife, yes. There is a Heaven. That much I am certain of after more than half a century of life.
What I'm also certain of is that the dad mentioned above is not in it, no matter how devoutly he clung to whatever religion he believed in between one heartbeat and the next.