2011-05-22

The End of the World

If I knew the world was ending tomorrow, I would sit on the couch cuddling my cats and go to bed with my wife as I would any other day, and thank God that I had this life. I have nothing more to ask for, and I want nothing more than this.

2011-05-19

Living well...

Regardless of your beliefs on afterlife, I'm pretty sure the best way to feel ok about dying is to live well.

Faith

I think people tend to forget that in faith, by definition, there is an element of unknown. It's not faith if you "believe" in a dictionary you wrote.

2011-05-02

Wisdom of the Sands - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is chapter 32 from the book Wisdom of the Sands (or Citadel, in its original French).

That year died he who reigned beyond the eastern marches of my empire. Many a hard battle had I joined with him, and therewith I had come to understand that I leaned on him as on a wall. Still can I recall our meetings. A scarlet tent was pitched out in the desert, and each of us made his way into the tent, leaving his army afar - for it is not well for the men to mingle together. The crowd lives only in and for its belly. And shallow gilding flakes all too easily away. Thus warily they gazed at us, standing to their arms for prudence’ sake, and not to be beguiled by any insidious softening of their mood. For wise was my father when he said: "Forgather not with your adversary on the ground level, but in the topmost tower of his heart and soul and mind. Else, by seeking to find common ground in your tawdrier emotions, you will come to shedding blood, needlessly."

Thus, taking to heart his counsel, I went forth to meet my man, stripped of superfluities and fenced by threefold walls of solitude. We sat down on the sand, facing each other. I know not which of us two was the more powerful; but in that sanctuary of solitude, power became measure; for though our gestures shook the world, we measured them.

Sometimes we fell to speaking of the grazing grounds. "I have twenty-five thousand head of cattle dying," he would say, and add: "The rains were good in your country, I am told." But I could not suffer them to import their alien customs, and doubts that breed corruption. Those shepherds from another world - how could I admit them into my empire?

"We," I said, "have twenty-five thousand young children who must learn the prayers of their own people and not another’s; else will they grow awry."

So we had recourse to the arbitrament of war, and we were like tides flowing and ebbing, but neither gaining ground. And though each brought his full weight to bear, neither yielded; because we both were primed to the utmost, each hardening his enemy by defeat. "You have gained a victory; thereby am I grown the stronger."

Not that I misesteemed his greatness, or the hanging gardens of his capital, or the perfumes sold by his merchants, or the delicate craftsmanship of his goldsmiths, or his great dams for the storing of water. Only a small mind traffics in scorn; a mind whose truth accords no place to others’. But we who knew that different truths can coexist thought not that we were lowering ourselves by countenancing another’s truth, unpalatable though it might seem. An apple tree does not, to my knowledge, scorn the cedar, or the palm tree, or the vine; but each toughens itself to the utmost and mingles not its roots. Thus it retains its form and selfhood, a capital inestimable, which it were unbecoming to debase.

"True bartering," he was wont to say, "means the box of spikenard, or the seedling; it is the gift of golden cedar-wood that imparts the fragrance of my house to yours. Or, it may be, my war cry when it reaches you from my mountains. Or, perchance, the coming of an ambassador, if he has long been trained and shaped and tested, and he both rejects you and takes you to his heart. He rejects you on his lower levels; but on the heights where human esteem rises above hatred, he finds common ground with you. The only esteem worth having is an enemy’s; for that of friends is worthless unless it be something higher than their kind regards or the trivial emotions of the marketplace. Die for your friend if you will, but pity not yourself therefor."

Thus I would lie, were I to say I had a friend in him. Nevertheless, always we met with deep-felt joy - but here words would lead astray by reason of men’s pettiness. My joy was not for him, but for God; he was a bridge leading towards God, and our meetings were keystones of the arches. And our silences were understanding.

May God forgive me for weeping when he died! Too well I knew it, my sorrow’s flaw. Surely, I told myself, it is because I am not yet pure enough that I shed these tears. Whereas I pictured him, had I been first to die, simply walking forth into the vastness of the desert twilight and contemplating the great change that had come on our world as calmly as he watched the shadows gathering. Or as a drowning man when the world changes under the slumbrous mirror of the waters. "O Lord," would he have prayed to his God, "the day dawns and the night falls according to Thy will. But nothing has been lost of the sheaf that has been gathered up, of the epoch that has passed away. I have been..." Thus he would have gathered me into his peace ineffable. But I was not pure enough, nor as yet feign enough of things eternal. Like a woman, I still felt that vague melancholy which comes when the evening wind withers the flowers in my rose-garden. For in my roses it withers me, and I, too, die in them.

In the course of my life I had deposed statesmen, buried my captains, won women and lost them; and I had left about the world a host of vestiges of myself, as a snake leaves its sloughed-off skins. Nevertheless, as punctually as returns the sun ruling the tides of light and dark, or summer ruling the year’s fruition, even so from colloquy to colloquy, from one treaty to another, did my men-at-arms pitch that empty tent far off in the desert. And every year we repaired to it, he and I. Thus arose a hallowed custom, and ever I saw that smile of his, crinkled like old vellum, and his serenity as death drew near. And that silence which is not of man, but God’s.

But now I was alone, sole trustee of my past, with none left to bear witness to my works and days. Or to those activities which I had not deigned to unbare to my people, but which he, my neighbor in the East, had understood; all those heart searchings which never had I paraded before others but in his silence he had discerned. Those responsibilities which had all but overwhelmed me and of which none of my people had even an inkling (for it was well that they should think I gave my every whim free rein), but which he, my neighbor in the East, had weighed, never with fellow-feeling but with fine aloofness; for he judged these matters quite otherwise than I. And now behold he was sleeping in the glittering cerement of the sand, having drawn it over him as a shroud. Silence had enwrapped him, and on his lips was taking form that final smile, forlorn yet God-enkindled, of a man who is content with having bound up his sheaf, his eyes closed on their treasure.

In my discomfiture how much was due to self-esteem! Weak as I was, I ascribed high importance to the course of my destiny, though it had none at all; I rated the empire in terms of myself instead of sinking myself into the empire, and I saw my life like a long track steadily rising towards the peak I had attained.

That night, on the lonely table-land, I stood at a parting of the ways: after climbing to the heights I must now begin the long descent. For the first time I knew that I was old; all men seemed strangers, there were no familiar faces left. I felt detached from all, now that I was growing detached from myself. On that upward slope I had abandoned, one by one, my captains, my loves, my enemies, and perchance my only friend. Henceforth I was alone in a world peopled by men I knew no more.

Yet, dark as was the hour, I found strength to take up life again. "I have broken through my last husk," I told myself, "and now I shall step forth the purer. I had rated myself too high, and because I was growing soft this trial has been sent me. For I was puffing myself up with ignoble fancies; but now will I be able to enshrine him, my dead friend, for ever in his majesty, nor will I weep for him. Simply - he will have been. And the sand will seem to me the richer, since often in the vastness of this desert I have seen him smile. And for me all men’s smiles will be enriched by that one man’s smile; for I shall see in Man that secret image which no sculptor has been able to wrest forth from the stone enshrouding it. Across the unhewn block I shall discern Man’s countenance the better for having looked one man straight in the eyes.

"True, I am treading now the downward slope; but have no fear, my people. I have restored the broken link. Ill was it that I should have depended on a man. The hand which healed me and sewed up my wound is no more, but the suture remains. As I descend my mountain I pass sheep and lambs. And fondle them. I am alone in the world under God’s providence, but when I fondle lambs which open the wellsprings of the heart, I am caressing not so much these little creatures nuzzling my hand as all the weakness of mankind; and thus I return to you."

As for that other king, I have throned him in majesty; I have immortalized him in death. Every year a tent is pitched in the desert, while my people pray. My armies stand to arms, their guns are primed, my horsemen range the desert keeping watch and ward, and any intruder venturing within the precinct is beheaded. Alone, I walk forward to the tent, then lift the flap and sit down on the sand. And all is silence.

Friendship

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
"Please – tame me!" he said.
"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."
"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox. "Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…"
"What must I do, to tame you?" asked the little prince?
"You must be very patient," replied the fox. "First you will sit down at a little distance from me – like that – in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…"

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose..."
"I am responsible for my rose," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Friendship is not something to be entered into lightly. It's a long, heavy process (though it also can be very fun and exciting at the same time), and if you're serious about it, it leaves you at a place where the person or persons you have befriended are important to you, not because they give you something, but because you have given them something.

This is why it should not be entered lightly. Because at the end, you have given parts of yourself to each other, and extricating yourself from those ties is often painful and damaging, in a way that often requires grieving - even if there was no falling out between people. You cannot simply sever the ties and move on. You are responsible for the person with whom you have shared life, even if this means the responsibility of working with them to end a relationship.

That being said, we cannot live properly without connection to other human beings, and so, friendship - you could even say love (romantic or otherwise) - is an essential part of our experience here, even though it is often very difficult and painful.

"Only the children know what they are looking for," said the little prince. "They waste their time over a rag doll and it becomes very important to them; and if anybody takes it away from them, they cry..."

"They are lucky," the switchman said.