Thank you for your response. It was more light-hearted than I would have thought. Much to my relief, I read your letter in my humble screened-in porch in the cool spring evening.
I won’t waste your time in this letter so I will get to the point.
“The life of folly is empty of gratitude, full of anxiety: it is focused wholly on the future.”
This is Epicurus. In my evening reading I came across Seneca quoting Epicurus in one of his letters and it very neatly squares the corners of the topic of this letter. And I am sure you won’t be disappointed. Though perhaps I speak too soon.
It occurs to me that I have lived most of my life in folly because I have directed most of my focus and energy toward the future. Now, one can direct their energy toward the future in a productive manner, but one can also completely waste their time dwelling on what is around the corner. Which has held the most weight in my life? I’m not sure I can answer that question.
What kind of focus on the future are we referring to here? A man could focus on the future by collecting food and storing it away. Or, in a modern sense, saving money. This is productive. Focusing on an approaching event to the point of imagining outcomes is unproductive focus on the future, and therefore, folly.
There is a simple solution to this state of being. One needs only have faith that what happens does in fact happen for a reason, and multiple reasons at that. Perhaps even a countless number of reasons. If one adopts this attitude then anxiety ceases to maintain its foothold in one’s life. What is there to be anxious about if whatever happens to you must happen for a reason? Even if the reason is your own death?
I came across an obituary of a young woman in the local newspaper the other day. She was 29. The obituary reported that she died “suddenly.” How, I ask you, my friend, does a 29 year old die suddenly? A car accident? Maybe. An aneurysm? Maybe. The point is, this young woman, who had a successful life and a successful life ahead of her could not escape her fate, which was to do what she had done in this world and then to die suddenly. I thought about it for many days. It followed me everywhere I went. I thought about death and my own life and that I, too, could die suddenly if that was the way things were ordered.
We do inexplicable things and later, ask ourselves: “how could I be so stupid as to react that way?” We are overtaken by anxiety of the consequences of our stupidity. What will become of us now? The answer is: you acted the way you did in order to meet your fate. Whatever that entails you must meet it head on and do battle. Whether we like it or not that is the condition of life.
Our reactions may endear us to certain people, or it may help to develop a relationship with someone, whether they are your superior at your place of work or your future wife. The point is this: human beings are in a process of exchange with one another at all times. We exchange material; we exchange emotional responses; we exchange ideas, etc…
But I am getting off topic here. You see I am easily distracted. You know this already.
The focus of this letter is, or was supposed to be, fate, the future, and how to prevent, or limit anxiety for the future through faith in fate itself. The word fate brings to mind a few connotations. One will think of a deity controlling everything from time immemorial; one will think of fate as pure consequence; one will think of fate as intimately connected with one’s social position. Of these three I adhere to the second: that fate is in fact another word for consequence. What starts us on our path after birth, is our position in the world. Position in the world encompasses many things. From the people we know to our social standing, we enter into the world already positioned. Our entry is not chosen and so we find ourselves somewhere as someone. That in itself is the definition of fate, and it’s what we have to work with, and often times, against.
Many people will say that it is folly to curse one’s fate–that one should never work against their fate but accept it with their entire being and move forward with it. Agreed, mostly, but isn’t there some utility in cursing one’s fate? Isn’t there advantage to be gleaned by doing combat against oneself and one’s circumstance? I want to call this self-combat, if you will allow it, my friend, and we can use this term going forward in our correspondence, unless, that is, you have a major objection to the term. Whether or not you agree that it is productive is another matter, but we should at least agree on the term.
“Excellence withers without an adversary: the time for us to see how great it is, how much its force, is when it displays its power through endurance. I assure you, good men should do the same: they should not be afraid to face hardships and difficulties, or complain of fate; whatever happens, good men should take it in part, and turn it to a good end; it is not what you endure that matters, but how you endure it.”
And with that, I’ll turn it over to you.