A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I’m going to tell you a secret that’s going to shake up your world if not actually change your life. It’s one of those things that nobody thinks about until it’s too late, but because I’m a good guy, I’m going to give you the heads up. Make of it what you will; but first, a little background.
Ever since the Stoned Age, all kinds of normally sensible people have been yipping about how short life is. Used as an all-purpose excuse for juvenile behaviour, in the ensuing decades, “Carpe diem” was repeated so often it became the mantra of the second half of the 20th century — and beyond. Here in 2013, it’s considered an irrefutable truth, bestriding our culture like the Colossus of Rhodes.
Crap! The real truth is life is the longest thing you’re ever going to do.
I’m not going to argue the metaphysics of eternal consciousness. That’s for sophomore philosophers with time on their hands. My point is much simpler than that. The reality is here you are, and until your bodily functions cease to function, here is where you’re going to stay. Even though the length of your life is a tremor in the earthquake we call history, it’s all you’ve got, and you should treat it with some respect.
The problem is most contemporary people are so obsessed with their lack of time that they completely forget about the quality of life. They’ve turned what should be a series of wonderful adventures into a putt and bounce game of off-handed actions and unintended consequences. Metaphorically speaking, the result is we spend most of our lives trying to pay for the meal we never planned to have in the first place — because some idiot told us life’s too short to do otherwise.
For example, losing your virginity is one of the biggies. It’s a magical moment that is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One would think there would be some pomp and circumstance to it; at the very least, a drum roll. However, for most of us, it was a fumble/stumble extended cuddle that got out of hand. We definitely remember where and when and think fondly of our partner, from time to time, but most of us can’t accurately conjure up a face. In general, people have more details about their 40th birthday party (and not just because they have photos) — they probably spent more time planning it.
It’s the same with the jobs we do. I’m constantly struck by how many people spend their lives hating their careers or the lack there of. The coulda/woulda/shoulda of gainful employment has almost become a cliché in contemporary society. I understand that not every accountant can be a lion tamer. However, just because you can’t tame the lion, that doesn’t mean you have to spend your life doing something completely different. Join the circus, for God’s sake; at least you’ll get close. After all, unless your dad’s name is Bill Gates, a job is going occupy a third of your life. “Close” counts! The formula for misery is the Monty Python approach to career management.
It’s the same with our homes, our friends, our families, the junk we eat for breakfast and on and on. For the most part, we live off the top of our heads because we’re convinced “life is too short” to pause its relentless path for five seconds to think about what we’re doing.
Nobody goes to a travel agent, tosses a credit card on the desk and says, “Send me somewhere!” We think about it, ask around, do some planning; not because life is too short to miss that fantastic destination but because our two week vacation is too precious to screw up. Yet, for the other fifty weeks of the year, we mostly settle for mediocre when a modicum of planning would give marvelous results.
Life is not too short. Actually, if we’d quit wasting time chasing, catching and suffering the consequences of instant gratification and spent more time dealing with the stuff that really matters, we’d all think it was just the right size.