Response

Mr. N,

So, Seneca has found out how to pick the lock on your front door and sneak in has he? You could have much nastier thieves. Have you, by the way, started to lock your doors at night, and when you leave your home for the day? You really should. Our world is much different. Consider yourself cautioned by someone who knows. And even if you are not overly concerned about thieves as I am, it makes for a worthwhile routine.

Self-combat…yes, I can relate to this condition at least. Though not as much these days. You see, things are too stable, and I emphasize the too in that sentence. You already know this. My younger days are over and the middle-part of life is almost over, and so here I am, an older gentleman, stable and content. Self-combat was something that belonged to youth and still does belong to youth, that is if one conquers one’s youth and becomes as I am.

At this point you must be saying: “you’re wrong! age has nothing to do with it! In fact in one’s old age there is more use for self-combat.”

And you would be correct in pointing this out.

The sun has regained its strength and it hovers at this hour well above the horizon. It is the spring sun and it has returned. It pours itself into my den, and is relentless. It is as relentless as our inner self which pesters and challenges us hour after hour, and there is no rest in sleep for we have dreams in which our most dangerous insights lay.

Ever since the death of my wife my return to bachelorhood has been full of self-combat. And there is nothing in this world that doesn’t remind me of this condition. Think you are free of it because you get old? Wrong. Think you are free of it because you accomplished a difficult task? Wrong. Think you are free of it because you fell in love? Wrong. The old bastard keeps coming back for more. It’s what keeps us alive, my friend. And you have wisely pointed this out. You must have taken my advice and made camp. You must have taken time to take stock of your thoughts, reactions and emotions.

“Fortune lays into us with the whip and tears our flesh: let us endure it.”

We are both reading Seneca. And why not? Often we have been reading the same author. There is no reason why that should change unless we become wholly different men. So, then, we both agree that being lashed is not only inevitable but necessary. I must ask the question in light of this: for how long can a man endure life’s lashings? For there comes a time when he finally caves in. Each one of us must prepare for this eventual collapse. How one prepares for it varies based on the various dispositions of men. But what is true is that we are all headed toward the day of capitulation. And as the Stoics remind us, that capitulation should be an honourable one; not one full of sobbing and belly-aching.

It is sobering when one first comes to this realization. Whatever one is doing at the time of this realization, whether it’s shopping; driving to work; going for a leisurely stroll; sitting down to coffee with one’s wife, or alone, one is temporarily suspended in time. All movement is halted. Seized with the darkness (and sometimes freedom) of this insight, how does one continue the seemingly benign task of pouring tea from the pot to the cup? And while watching the tea come out, it is the one time when one doesn’t care if it’s steeped enough, for their vision is on other things outside of the here and now.

But there is great danger here. This is territory sometimes better left untouched. And yet Fortune would have it touch some men rather than others. There is no explanation for this. Nor should there be. Many a man has dwelt for too long in this territory, becoming consumed by the burden, and, in a state of shock, he collapses; he speeds up the very process he has fully come to terms with.

One of the times I have experienced this realization was in the company of two other men. We were in a taxi cab. The driver and the passenger in the front were conversing about two young men they knew, who, although young, were going through the most horrendous of health problems. I knew roughly who they were speaking of, these young men, who were on the edge of life, though I had no idea the extent of their suffering. As an eavesdropper I learned all that I could handle before feeling great sorrow for these men. By Fortune’s hand they were brought close to death numerous times. So, as an aside, Mr. N I will say: you should be thankful for your health. Indeed be beyond thankful. Thank God truthfully, and with all your soul that you are healthy and that it continues.

I believe I have strayed from the topic of your letter, except that I sense a hint of romanticism in your letter about struggle. When true struggle actually arrives, the brutality of it eradicates any romantic pre-thoughts or anticipation. Please keep this in mind, for we are all on the edge, and when we fall, all of our pre-conceived notions of how it will go are obliterated. Only the brutal animal remains; left alone, face-to-face with his maker.

Yours,

G.S.

 

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