Melancholy thoughts

Have you not looked down … at a city and seen how much it resembles an ant heap, full of blind creatures who think their mundane little world is real? You see the lighted windows and what you want to think is that there must be many interesting stories behind them. But what you know is that really there are just dull, dull souls, mere consumers of food, who think their instincts are emotions and their tiny lives of more account than a whisper of wind. (from Soul Music by Terry Pratchett.)

Sometimes, as I’m driving down the road, I wonder about the other people I see and where they are going, how it might be interesting to follow a random person and see what they were doing. But the reality is that if I did pick a person to follow at random, they’d probably be going to work or home. They’d get out of their car, walk in a building, and wouldn’t emerge again for several hours. And whatever fantasy I entertain about how exciting someone else’s life might be would only be met by the reality of how depressing my own vicarious skulking was. Life is never as interesting as we think it should be. Life is never as exciting as we wish it were. There are bright spots, glimpses of excitement, but these are not the norm. I suspect that by the time they reach 35, most people have given up on whatever they thought life was supposed to be when they were 16, 17, or 18 and resigned themselves to the mundane and everyday. Perhaps this isn’t true for everyone, but this is how I’ve experienced life.

What is there to show for all of our hard work here on this earth? People come, and people go, but still the world never changes. The sun comes up, the sun goes down; it hurries right back to where it started from. The wind blows south, the wind blows north; round and round it blows over and over again. All rivers empty into the sea, but it never spills over; one by one the rivers return to their source. All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. (Eccl 1:3-8 CEV)

We can, as I think I have done, manage to find a great deal of satisfaction, even joy, in our mundane little lives. Once we understand how little the world cares of us, the love we share with those closest to us becomes incredibly precious. Amongst the black backdrop of life, we find that our accomplishments, our family, our friends are valuable precisely because of what they mean right now, not because we’ve managed to change the world forever. Our friends and children will carry on without us. Even most people who couldn’t imagine life without us now will manage to create a new, mundane routine without us after we move on. We can realize all this and still, while we’re here, savor the love of our wife, rejoice in our child’s accomplishments, and enjoy the company of a good friend. There is no such thing as a legacy except in our imagination. There is only now. We cannot change the world, no matter how hard we try. As Moses wrote, and Jesus later affirmed: There will always be poor people. Someone will always be in need. Still, this is not an excuse to do nothing. There is no utopia, and Sisyphean our task may be, but doing nothing will only lead to depression, despair and despondency. Hope can only live in action. Hope and Love are all we have. We cannot save the world or accomplish world peace, but we enjoy this brief little spark that is our life before it fades.

5 thoughts on “Melancholy thoughts”

  1. See now, and you thought I’d make fun of your reading choices. Pratchett and Ecclesiastes all in the same post — how can you beat that?

    In all seriousness, I appreciate this post. It runs parallel to many of my own thought lately.

    Time to go fake at being asleep while yet another go round with a head and chest cold kicks me around.

  2. I suspect that by the time they reach 35, most people have given up on whatever they thought life was supposed to be when they were 16, 17, or 18 and resigned themselves to the mundane and everyday.

    About a decade ago I caught up with some friends from high school, and one of them commented that we’d all become pretty much what we said we were going to be. I remember him saying it with a little surprise and some resignation.

    In some ways those dreams are two decades gone for me, on the other hand it’s all worked out pretty much like I thought it would. Yeah, I’ve had some setbacks, maybe it’s a little slower, and I’m a little more pragmatic now, less idealistic, but I’m actually continually shocked at how my life seems to guide me back on to the rails I chose in my teens.

    Maybe I should have dreamed bigger? I might have, but I grew up in a culture that encouraged that savoring of the small bits of community, and have spent much of my life trying to dream bigger, trying to escape those confines. I never really wanted to change the world, only my world; maybe that the world of my elementary school didn’t extend too far beyond the mile or two in each direction that containd the associated farm and community, and we lived another 16 or 17 beyond that gave me a sense of my world that didn’t go very far.

    However, that sense of being outside looking in also let me get the same realizations about the world at large fairly early: As you say, there will always be poor people. There have nearly always been happy people and sad people. We won’t create a utopia on a larger scale, if it were possible someone else would have done it, so the best we can do is to foster those around us, and be willing to cooperate with the larger world when that presents itself, or defend ourselves from it when it encroaches.

    As to the initial question, yeah, there are dull people, but if we’re open to relate to the larger world as we do to our immediate one there’s quite a bit to find fascinating and intriguing in the life of a random person. We just have to value them in the same ways we value those closest to us.

  3. simple irc notifier

    I came up with a (very) simple way to send a notification when a message is sent to you:

    (defun my-notify-erc (match-type nickuserhost message)
    “Notify when a message is received”
    (notify (progn
    (string-match “\\([^!]+\\)!” nickuserhost)
    (match-string 1 nickuserhost))
    :icon “emacs-snapshot”))

    (add-hook ‘erc-text-matched-hook ‘my-notify-erc)

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