(re-posted from November, 2011)
"Some men spend their whole life furnishing for themselves the things proper to life without realizing that at our birth each of us was poured a mortal brew to drink" ~ Epicurus, 30th Vatican Saying.
"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." ~ Samuel Johnson
I have a disease that is eating away my intestines. It has spread to my stomach, created great ulcers, and has the potential to eventually form a cancer that will kill me. I'm sorry to bring it up, but it's a fact. There's often a mild pain in my gut that reminds me that I'm not immortal. I'm thankful for it. I may not die from this specific condition, but I will die somehow; this is a fact that can be forgotten as we carry on with our day-to-day business.
In my best moments, I am always trying to affirm life--always reminding myself to appreciate clouds and bright Autumn leaves and the sight of children playing; but it's impossible to affirm life without factoring in decay. After all, clouds dissipate. Leaves fall, children grow into adults, and adults grow old and die.
It's good to remember death. We are all dying. We are all transitioning. We are short, strange bursts of energy, and we are as alone as we are together. It's humbling to realize that one day all memory of us will be erased. These words, and the handful of people who read them, will be gone. There will be a world that doesn't know Shakespeare. One day, there will be no world at all. While we're alive, we're those brightly burning Autumn leaves.
So, if all of our work amounts to stitches in a great fabric that will one day be unwoven, why work? And if our lights will one day go out, what difference does it make when they go out?
Of all the advice I've received on this issue, I think Albert Camus puts it in the best (and possibly least comforting) way:
"The absurd man will not commit suicide; he wants to live, without relinquishing any of his certainty, without a future, without hope, without illusions ... and without resignation either. He stares at death with passionate attention and this fascination liberates him. He experiences the "divine irresponsibility" of the condemned man"
I guess the reason we keep going on is because we can, as an act of sheer will in a mechanical and impersonal universe. We provide the universe with the personal. Our lights will go out, and we will accept the extinguishing when it comes, but until then we will persist, because we can. And we will do good work because there is nothing else worth doing. If we're all residents of the Titanic, what's the point in pillaging the rooms of rich evacuees and transporting the goods they left behind to our own rooms, which are rapidly filling with icy water? The only thing worth doing is good. We will play our instruments as the ship goes down. We will help others to higher ground while there is higher ground to go to. We will value each other as intensely as we can in this moment, because our last moment is rapidly approaching.
for more posts in this series, click here.