Look at anything. Really, really look at it. And it will become quite strange.
Here you are, for example. And all the past is gone. And all the future is not yet. You probably believe, in fact, in the instant you’re in, that only that instant is real. But does that make any sense? Isn’t an instant arbitrarily small, like a geometric point on a timeline, at its limit a nothing with nothing behind or ahead of it? So, that notion, so appealing to commonsense, almost universally believed, simply cannot be true, huh? Perhaps an instant is somewhat larger–defined by the limits of the thresholds of perception. Yes, that makes more sense–that a human instant has, at least, breadth. Or perhaps all the instants are there, like beads on a string, but you can’t directly see the other ones from this instant, as you can’t directly see Boston when you are in Chicago. That makes more sense still. And it’s a prediction of special relativity that has been scientifically confirmed again and again.
For BILLIONS of years, you weren’t, and you will be for a tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny . . . tiny fraction of time, and then you won’t be, at least not as you, FOREVER more. If you haven’t read Bede on the sparrow in the Mead Hall, it’s worth doing.
And you will spend most of the infinitesimal amount of time that you have doing what? Will you lie on your deathbed and say, if only, if only I had done a better job of organizing my kitchen cabinets in August of 2016? If only, if only I had cared more about what people thought of the sweater I was wearing on the 9th hour of the 9,436th day of my life? What, exactly, do you have to lose if you take the big leap, if the you take that risk and tell most everyone to f**k themselves with their expectations of you and try to do something AMAZING, something truly engaging and valuable, with the little time you have? What if, for the most part, you did what you damned well please?
If you are 25 years old, you have, on average, 18,250 days yet to live. If you are 50, you have, on average, 9,125 days remaining. If you are 65, you have 3,650. There’s a very good chance that you have fewer days left than dollars that you earned last year. Spent those pretty quickly, huh?
Here you are. After all those billions of years. With your handful of days left. And you are surrounded by people whose strongest convictions, for the most part, are completely unexamined or unwarranted, who yet are insistent that you adopt those convictions and live this way or that. The ones they get most exercised about are generally those they secretly suspect to be cheering fairy tales that they are telling themselves because they are afraid, afraid of what will come, of the death they don’t want to think about being there, waiting for them, in the all-too-near future, afraid that they might screw up and risk . . . and risk what? The worst that can happen to anyone WILL happen to him or her very soon, in less than a blink of the cosmic eye. He or she already knows that.
So how come most of us act, all the time, as though we personally have so much to lose? And how come we don’t spend a LOT more of our time dancing and f**king and making art and listening to music and being with those whom we love? And why are most people afraid to stand up and speak or sing? or afraid of telling the a**hole in charge to get a clue or go f**k himself? or afraid of sleeping with that person or of jumping out of that airplane or of trying those shrooms or of taking part in that march or of entertaining that crazy idea or of letting themselves be painted naked? What, exactly, do we really have to be afraid of, aside from losing the ability to be able to continue to care for those whom we love who depend upon us? There are some things like that, to be sure, that actually matter. But most of it? Not at all. Oh, there was that time, back there, when someone didn’t “Like” what I posted on Facebook or Instagram or thought I sounded stupid doing that karaoke. And there was that time that I tried to play that riff and it didn’t quite come off and Joe the drummer raised an eyebrow and smirked because he thought it was lame. Wow. That was important.
“What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” wrote Mary Oliver, and she was onto something. And given all this, why I am I here, in this precious, fleeting instant, writing this stupid post? Well, I’m reaching out, trying to bridge a gap and connect and get these random validations that are available now, and it’s a drug, that. And here’s the thing about drugs–they can be wonderful, but they are powerful and can mess you up. So, I should be an intrepid explorer, but not a tourist stepping back off a cliff during a selfie. I should cultivate, in the time remaining, a wise abandon.
For other essays (and cartoons!) by Bob Shepherd on philosophical subjects, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/philosophy/