I often consider these contradictory facts: the same knife that can be used to kill can be used to heal. The same gun that ends one life can save another, depending on who is shot and why. The same car that transports us through the many events of our lives might also spell our doom if the conditions of the road are ripe for it. The food we eat to live, from which we derive the energy to be, can turn against us and stop our hearts. Religion, from which some derive a blessing, can and usually does incite hatred for everyone else. The planet on which we live provides everything we need to survive, and yet one night spent in that same planet’s severe elements could kill us. Our bodies are made mostly of water, yet to be too long submerged in water means we drown. The air we breathe can sustain our lungs and poison them at the same time. The sun we depend on for our very lives will blind and burn our eyes out if we look at it. Gravity, which keeps us tethered safely to our planet and prevents us from being flung out into space, will shatter every bone in our bodies if we fall from a far enough height. And life, which is the most beautiful, wondrous thing in all the Cosmos, is, for the most part, one long exercise in agony and disaster.
When I think about these paradoxical facts, I wonder just what it is that reality’s trying to say to us. Is it possible that the message to us is that existence is, in the end, one big joke? If so, maybe the moral of the message is that no one here among the oddities of reality should take things too seriously or worry too much about any one thing.
Or perhaps reality is simply saying that nothing is what it seems, that we should never take for granted the flawed black and white frame through which we’re so tempted to view it. I for one constantly catch myself posturing as though I have all things under the sun figured out here amongst reality. But do I? Does anyone? Can anyone? I don’t believe so. Whenever we are tempted to think we understand reality, we must remember those aforementioned contradictory facts, for everything here appears to be sending out dual messages, one that invites and one that kills. The dualism of reality, of which I’ve hitherto written a deal, is visible everywhere at all times, staring in the face those who would suggest no such dualism exists.
Take something as elementary as the blowing of the wind, for example. On a hot day, a cool breeze against your temple sends comfort throughout your entire being. In a hurricane, a fierce gale can rip the skin off your body. But wind, when you really get down to it, is just the effect of molecules—indifferent molecules—being flung through the atmosphere by some outside impetus. The molecules move without any premeditated intention to harm you or comfort you. But they can do either as randomly as they please. And yet, on that hot day, when the cool breeze hit you, you may have felt that some hand of providence was reaching down to remind you that you’re loved. In the hurricane, as death closes around you, you might feel as if that same hand of providence has reversed its stance toward you, that you’re no longer loved. And in the course of one life, how many similar moments befall us, when we’re tempted to attach our outside, contrived meaning to the random events of reality? Existence is really one great tapestry of such moments and such contrived interpretations.
But what was really happening? The cool breeze came not from providence but from the weather, as did the hurricane. All the meaning you attached to it was, in fact, meaningless.
Yet how much of our fleeting existence is lived and shaped by these fictitious attachments of meaning? Thus, in a sense, one could say that we all live in a fantasy world, each of us in our own, contrived by and perpetuated by us simply because we believe reality to be one way when, in actuality, it’s entirely different.
Or not. I confess I’ve not thought enough about these matters to really know anything one way or the other. Perchance I need to spend some more time pondering these things. Which brings me to something Seneca the Younger once said:
We should always allow some time to elapse, for time discloses the truth.
I do think this is an excellent rule of thumb, though I confess that allowing “some time to elapse” requires mammoth quantities of that virtue I’ve never possessed: patience. I feel like this is something that humans just don’t know how to do anymore. Allowing time to elapse basically implies a kind of acceptance of things as they currently are. But how exactly do we do that? Seneca doesn’t say, and it makes me think it’s because he took for granted that his readers would know. Maybe they did know in Ancient Rome. But alas, what the fuck do we know today about patience and waiting?
Not a damn thing.
Or perhaps Seneca didn’t tell us because he didn’t know. Maybe all the philosophers through time have been the same: talking about all kinds of heavy shit of which they themselves knew nothing. It’s one thing to point out all the problems with humanity, or spotlight the best way to combat those problems, but as far as actually doing it ourselves, well, maybe all philosophers come up short. Or maybe that’s just me. Perhaps they were all perfect embodiments of everything they spoke about while I’m here excelling at the opposite.
As for patience, I understand there’s something to be said about the contemporary state of society, that fast-paced blur of bullshit we call the modern, technological world. It’s not an environment conducive to that deliberate art of patience. Still, something tells me that even before we went and got ourselves into this big fucking hurry, patience was never really a natural expression for the human being.
Patience, it seems to me, is an unnatural aberration for us, one we must learn to impose upon ourselves, proof that not all self-inflictions are for the worse, though to do so invites more suffering upon the soul. Ah, but then I remember an apropos bit of verse penned by Aeschylus in Agamemnon:
Wisdom comes through suffering.
Trouble, with its memories of pain,
Drips in our hearts as we try to sleep,
So men against their will
Learn to practice moderation.
Wisdom resulting from suffering. Yeah, what a common fucking theme in my common fucking life. It seems like at every turn I’m reminded of this damnable truth. However, can it not also be said that wisdom comes from education and reading and experience? I think so. But it’s only the suffering the old poets want to talk about, and I guess I’m no different.
It’s certainly true that men “learn moderation against their will.” I know I do. In fact, everything in me despises the idea of moderation. As I’ve said before, fuck balance.
Still, there’s something to be said about this continuous, prevalent pattern seen in the whole of humanity, the endemic truth that wisdom or greater knowledge is the result of trials and adversities. Isn’t it enough of a cursed thing that we have to be human at all? Must we also endure suffering just to better ourselves too?