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Ireland“Bumper stickers and fridge magnets remind us that Life Is Not a Rehearsal. We encourage one another toward the secular modern heaven of self-fulfillment: the development of the personality, the relationships which help define us, the status-giving job, the material goods, the ownership of property, the foreign holidays, the acquisition of savings, the accumulation of sexual exploits, the visits to the gym, the consumption of culture. It all adds up to happiness, doesn’t it — doesn’t it? This is our chosen myth.

But if life is viewed as a rehearsal, or a preparation, or an anteroom, or whichever metaphor we choose, but at any rate as something contingent, something dependent on a greater reality elsewhere, then it becomes at the same time less valuable and more serious. Those parts of the world where religion has drained away and there is a general acknowledgement that this short stretch of time is all we have, are not, on the whole, more serious places than those where heads are still jerked by the cathedral’s bell or the minaret’s muezzin. On the whole, they yield to a frenetic materialism; although the ingenious human animal is well capable of constructing civilizations where religion coexists with frenetic materialism (where the former might even be an emetic consequence of the latter): witness America.”

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From Julian Barnes’s book Nothing to Be Frightened Of.

It’s interesting: all of those areas purporting to lead to self-fulfillment, when considered either individually or collectively, are so alluring. Yet — and I say this without having attained anything like fruition in any one of them — I know they can’t lead to sublime, substantial happiness. I somehow am positive of that; in fact, I’m almost equally as sure they only frustrate one even more in the rabid quest to feel fulfilled.

Consider this passage from A Canticle for Leibowitzas a sort of macro-level frame for a human life that seeks ceaselessly to check all of the above boxes:

The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they became with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier to see something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.

The picture was taken on one of those temporarily fulfilling foreign holidays to Ireland.