The School of Life
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
“Ah! Such fascinating work you have! Whatever did you study in school?”
With a laugh and shrug I deliver one of the punch lines of my life; “Business.”
Today my hundred-thousand-dollar investment in my private school education delivers little more to me than a terrible little white envelope in the mail each month reminding me that I will owe them a check for the rest of my life.
And when exactly did my education lose my respect, I wonder?
Because I do remember a girl that took pure delight in finding the point of equilibrium on the supply-demand charts of economics courses. I remember a girl that spend three summers doing internships creating company surveys and reveled in the cleanliness of statistical analysis. I remember a girl that could work the numbers on an accounting balance sheet with the swiftness and enchantment of aligning one of those little sliding number puzzles. What happened to that girl?
My favorite course was Economics. My teacher was brilliant.
I remember one day when he declared to the class, “today I am going to show you the actual dollar value of a human life.” He then proceeded to use statistics of how “high-risk” jobs (street construction work) pay higher salaries in direct relation to the value of risk of death. From there he found a dollar unit value of life. And two hours later, with a whirlwind of white chalk power wafting in the air, thirty 20-year-olds dropped their jaws in awe and declared in unison, “why yes, it makes perfect sense, a human life is worth exactly that little point on that graph!”
Another day he declared to the class, “today I’m going to show you that the best thing we could do to save the whales, is to give them to the poachers themselves.” And once again, in a flurry of swift statistics and sloping curves, he produced the ingenious answer, “privatization of the whaling industry!”
His rationale made pure and perfect sense.
Little did he know that his teachings would one day suffer from one of the very laws he taught me; The Law of Diminishing Returns, which I fondly remember as, “the more burritos you eat, the less you want to eat a burrito.”
Whales and Life are one thing on a chart, but they are another on a silver platter. And I declined my business school education on one life-changing day when they were delivered to me together in a formula that my Economics professor had never taught me…
|Mind and Sun Setting on Tamarindo Beach|
The alarm in their faces was crudely accentuated by the red streaks of blood on their arms and shirts.
“…we tried to push it back in…but it won’t go! It’s smashing up against the rocks and it’s bleeding everywhere….I’m not sure what it is…it looks like a baby whale or something…”
The local managers of our camp, without a single moments hesitation, grabbed their gear and ran with race-worthy speed down the beach. My own steps fell behind their feet, but I found their natural pace quickly outdistanced mine.
The tide was coming in and, with parts of the beach inaccessible, I summited a small cliff to get to the final strip of rocky beach where the animal reportedly lay. At the top of the cliff, I delayed my dash for one minute to turn around and witness a single glimpse of the most beautiful sunset light I have ever seen grace a land. The red dirt of the clay cliff flared the bush, sky and water into an array of technicolor that blinded me to the reality of life.
The world swam around me and finally stalled long enough for me to briefly wonder, “Is this real?” Distant shouting turned me back to the path and sent me scrambling down the cliff to where my co-workers stood huddled waist high in the crashing waves of the incoming tide around a black thrashing mass.
I slowed my step considerably as I approached the shiny, coal-colored creature that it took three men to restrain.
“What is it?!”
“Is it alive?!”
I stepped deeper into the water and reached out to the creature. I placed one hand near its pale and desperate eye.
Tears welled up behind my own and threatened to break with the tide.
And suddenly I remembered something that I had read online in the news that very morning…
A large pod whales had beached themselves “for no apparent reason” (although there was a recent experiment with seismic airguns in the local area of water) on the coast of Tasmania, Australia that day. Despite all local efforts, the whales could not be moved back into the sea and the whales all lay awaiting imminent death.
My heart turned back to the porpoise. My hand rested gently upon her resigned life. Life was slipping from her like the water gliding down her oiled skin. And as I reached out to her and touched that moment inbetween life and death, my heart lept across the world and felt also the pulse of her great sisters of the sea, as their despair grew to match their enormous size and their pulse diminished to match their will to live.
Life stalled again. My heart with it. And I felt the pulse of all life weaken.
My despair clenched my throat around my own breath of life and something inside of me screamed and fell down on its knees. The tide of my inner cry crashed violently against the rocks of my being.
“THIS is life! THIS is life!”
Life is not a number, or tool, or factor of an equation, or possession to be owned, or statistic to be manipulated, or point of equilibrium on a chart! It’s not clean, or mechanical or predictable! It’s here! THIS pulse is life! And it beats in pace with all living creatures, just as it resonates with my own. And when it fades, mine does also!
And suddenly the bowels of the porpoise broke. And the water we stood in turned black with waste and blood. The man restraining the tail of the creature let go of the fight that had faded with the heart.
And it was somewhere there in the soiled water of death, and in the silence of life lost, that I let go of my education, and stood in understanding.
www.solbeam.com: Equipped with only a backpack and blog, “sol” has spent the last four years traversing six continents and over 40 countries in hot pursuit of the Meaning of Life. Says she won’t stop till she understands her place in this Universe. And thus, with an eternal quest, the perpetual pilgrim treads on…