Friday, May 29, 2009

A Finite Number of Turns

Last week while in Hanover I met a friend's step-grandfather who is 97 years old. My brief conversations with him combined with time spend around friends rather than people I loathe have afforded me, I won't say epiphanies, but rather a few interesting thoughts with which I have been tinkering since I returned to my shithole town of current residence.

Let's say that I were to live to be 97. Were that the case I would have remaining 71 years, which is 25,915 days (give or take) which is 621,960 hours. I say this not to indicate the time I have remaining but rather to spark the realization that my time here is finite; I am probably going to die.

The complications which result from this realization are many. At the moment, however, my primary concern is that if there is a particular task I desire to accomplish or a specific person with whom I desire to spend time then the opportunities I have to accomplish that task and the time I have to spend with that person are limited in a very real and existential sense. When I extrapolate this information and apply it to existence as a whole and the beings living within said existence I find that a great quizibuck forms in my mind: How can I wait?

If I genuinely desire to accomplish a specific task then it would seem sensible to effort as much as possible to accomplish that task. If I desire to manifest a specific situation then it seems sensible to manifest as quickly as possible. If there is a specific person with whom I yearn to spend time then it would be entirely sensible, I think, to act on these feelings and compulsions. Thinking "I will do that later" or "I will eventually accomplish that" or "I'll tell her tomorrow" is entirely nonsensical given that in the truest sense later, eventually, or tomorrow may never be experienced by me.

Having returned I started to re-read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I think the message of this book, as indicated by the title, coupled with the realization that my time is finite manifests a delightful sense of existential terror. I have but one life to live, a finite amount of time afforded to me, and nothing but my own desires and compulsions upon which to found any sense of purpose, meaning, or value. I as a finite entity exist within a world of possibilities which are entirely neutral and baseless absent my own valuations yet these valuations exist only by my positing them the positing of which shall only exist for the finite amount of time within which my being has duration.

So how does one live upon having this realization? How can one play the game of life knowing that there are a finite number of turns? Were one to rush into a situation without following the designated steps feathers would be ruffled. Yet given that every breath may be my last am I not existentially justified in breaking social barriers and grasping at those ideals I desire to manifest before I expire? How can I, or anyone, wait when waiting allows for the expiration of the all too precious and finite resource of time?

My meanings and values are manifestations of my self. My time is finite. My being is airy and slight. Would it not follow that earnest proclamations and genuine action are the only sensible options within this finite duration of existence? Does not Carpe diem fail to acknowledge that one may expire before even the end of the day? How can one not be driven to madness by waiting or hoping when one recognizes the finitude of existence? How can one bide one's time once one realizes that time will end?

I can understand abandoning desire and maintaining apathy towards an existence which is finite. This seems like a sensible way to bypass existential terror in the face of an inescapable end. Yet when genuine yearning occurs, when one is driven and compelled to seek a specific can one couple the inevitability of one's demise with the recognition that commonplace emotions and everyday sensibilities demand that one yield to the illusion that there is time to ponder, to wait, to consider, to reflect? If I have but 71 years how can I possibly wait? How can I passively hope and not ceaselessly attempt to manifest that for which I hope?

If one maintains the illusion that one's supply of time is infinitely stocked then I can understand waiting, lingering and pondering over decisions or actions. I can understand dabbling in possibility if one considers one's self to be blessed with an infinite resource with which one can actualize those possibilities. But if one realizes the facticity of one's life and the inevitability of one's can one wait?

How can one think "maybe tomorrow" if one truly realizes that tomorrow may never come?


Roscoe said...

You really should have been in "You're Going to Die".

Christina said...

I feel so powerful right now, since I caused you to reach all of these conclusions and state of crisis, as it was my step-grandfather and my reading of The Unbearable Lightness of Being that led you to pick it up again.

You certainly seem to be suffering from the unbearable lightness of being. It's funny that you look at 97 year old Bernie and think how few years you have to live, should you survive to 97, and I think how many that is. I don't think that, given my druthers (what is a druther?), I would want to live to that age. The lightness of my existence does sometimes get me down, but at the same time, do you really want to live forever? I also thought I should point out the humor in the fact that you began this thoughtful blog post by saying you would "probably" die.

These ideas make me think of Caleb's favorite song, Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce and the grandfather from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. We waste so much of the time we have trying to figure out what we want or hung up on people or things we cannot get over, such that we cannot take advantage of better when they manifest. From these reflections, I can see your point about rushing, about trying to make the most of the time you have. Bully if that works for you, but I could not do that. Moving quickly might make things turn out just right and give you more time, but it could also result in tragedy. Or maybe I just say that to excuse my own weakness and fear of taking action. I guess it's odd that I would rather die having done almost nothing than dies having done the 'wrong' things out of a worry that I did not have time to be discerning.

Roscoe said...

.... Jesus crap.

I know this is eight kinds of ironic coming from me..

but.. lots of words there to say a fairly simple thing.

You're both caught up in trying to avoid landmines and find a way to specifically quantify what you're each trying to get at. Sometimes it's better to step on, and let what may come, come.

Roscoe said...

'course, I also recommend light drinking and brooding, so my advice is, at best, well meaning but toxic.

Caleb said...

Time in a Bottle Gah!


What is a person supposed to do in Madison, now?

Roscoe said...

paw at the closed glass windows of the ex-Harvest Market?

_J_ said...

"let what may come, come."

My understanding of reality is such that if one desires a specific situation to become manifest simply waiting and hoping are the least productive means of actualizing said desire.

Christina said...

I can agree with that, but waiting might be a decent response if you don't know what you desire. And given how indecisive I am, I'll probably spend a lot of my time waiting for the proverbial lightning of inspiration to strike.

Roscoe said...

We're all familiar with the words " It's a Trap", yes?

Waiting for inspiration don't bring it. Doing things causes it to come.

Or, at the very least, fills your time until inspiration does strike.

_J_ said...

Yes, if the Rebels had waited for the Death Star II to come to them? They would not have been trapped.

BUT if they had waited then the Death Star II would have been more fully armed and operational. And they probably would have been destroyed.

Attacking the Death Star II, while a trap, proved to ultimately be the wise decision.

Roscoe said...


Though, it's worth warning, it DID bring them into contact with Ewoks.

So, you know, be warned... the path is lined with dread peril.