Tuesday 5 May 2020

Each day - some new failure. But...

Days - by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days, 
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes, 
And marching single in an endless file, 
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands. 
To each they offer gifts after his will, 
Bread, kingdoms, stars, or sky that holds them all. 
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp, 
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily 
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day 
Turned and departed silent. I, too late, 
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn. 

Each day has been, in recent weeks, probably less differentiated than any I can remember (because I can't remember being a baby). Yet there is no 'routine' - even if I were to want one.

Some days I think I have 'cracked it' and discovered the Key to this life; how to 'use my time well', how to improve my faults, how to live.

Sometimes at the end of the day I look back and think: That went pretty well. I just need to keep on doing that.

And I never can. Usually the very next day, the wheels come-off; and I have no-one to blame but myself. My motivation disappears, I'm irritable and sarcastic, I can't concentrate, my mind is just a buzzing confusion. My health collapses, and my spirits; or vice versa.

Ralph Waldo Emerson - all his life - felt that each day started with infinite promise (that early morning feeling!) - On such a day as this, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, or Beethoven his Third Symphony (or Emerson his essay Nature)... If him - then, why not me - now?

Each morning runs-down to an indulgent, bloating lunch and a turgid afternoon - and in the evening... well, we are lucky if we pick ourselves up from this stale slough,look at the stars and gird ourselves for the next day before lapsing gratefully into sleep - hoping to make a better fist of things tomorrow.

And we never do. 

Well... that was Emerson; who sought to live each moment as if it was infinite in scope; and was permanently disappointed. 

It is tempting to regard Life as a failure, and my life in particular; day by day, year by year, until death... But this is a profound error. Indeed, from my Christian perspective, it is a sinful error. 

The only thing wrong with the actual days of my actual life, is when I lack faith and abandon hope.

If I have faith I know that God loves me and is making my acctual life into something from which I can benefit, day by day, hour by hour. If I have hope in Heavenly life I know that all experience undertaken in the spirit of faith is building towards a life of everlasting and cumulative satisfaction.

My life is a great situation for learning, a terrible situation for steady progress. A great opportunity for spiritual development, but rubbish at making us better people.

My life only intermittently and temporarily provides me with what I want - here and now; but has done a great job at dishing up what could do me good. 

After that - it's up to me.



William Wildblood said...

I am always conscious at the end of each day that during the course of it I have failed some little test, given way to anger or irritability or impatience or something like that despite resolving not to do so, but I also see the whole process as water on a stone so I tell myself that tomorrow is another day and God forgives everything as long as one keeps going and never gives up.

a_probst said...

@William Wildblood

Ah, that "never give up" is so difficult when we are trained to want and strive for 'visible progress' in our lives, which translates too often into bettering one's situation now and later but, we tell ourselves, within moral bounds and with humility. Yes. Absolutely. Of course.

Many readers and commenters to this blog probably suffer from that crippling self-consciousness experienced by Dostoyevsky's narrator in Notes From Underground and Conrad's Heyst in Victory. Samuel Butler noted its rise in the 19th Century in The Way of All Flesh.

John Lukacs (1924-2019) called it internalization and Jacques Barzun (1907-2012!) just Self Consciousness. Introspection over and above its usefulness, bemoaned as if it were an imposition from elsewhere. We hope that if it can't be cured then we'll die and discover that "Hah! It was neuro-physiological after all! Depression! Did my best! Score!"

Faith and trust in God is how we are challenged to deal with it now but without employing it merely as a cure and turning away if doesn't happen. As you and Bruce have pointed out.

Andrew said...

Could the morning's clarity have something to do with a fasted state? I'm not very good at this, but when I have gone long periods of fasting (say 24 hours) I tend to have enhanced mental clarity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Andrew Not in my case - I don't fast.