Man’s life is as a point… ever flowing

The time of a man’s life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful; to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul.

Marcus Aurelius

This is an interesting quote. I haven’t finished reading The Meditations or much about Aurelius’s life, so I don’t think I understand it fully, but it seems as though he’s saying that who we are physically and mentally changes from moment to moment and that we are all moving inexorably towards death.

I think it’s important to remember that people change over time and that the total time we have is fleeting. I’m not the same person I was 25 years ago and I won’t be the person I am today in 25 years, or even tomorrow. I do wonder if we should be struggling to make sure that every little thing we do is incredibly meaningful, though. I don’t know if that would make life more meaningful or just stressful. Sometimes it’s good to relax and enjoy frivolous things.

This art called life…

True understanding is to see the events of life in this way: ‘You are here for my benefit, though rumor paints you otherwise.’ And everything is turned to one’s advantage when he greets a situation like this: You are the very thing I was looking for. Truly whatever arises in life is the right material to bring about your growth and the growth of those around you. This, in a word, is art– and this art called ‘life’ is a practice suitable to both men and gods. Everything contains some special purpose and a hidden blessing; what then could be strange or arduous when all of life is here to greet you like an old and faithful friend.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher

This is a really cool and healthy way of looking at life. As much as possible, I’d like to cultivate this attitude in myself.

Traveling in the Time of COVID-19

I was just thinking to myself that I’d like to go to Georgia to visit family. Especially some of my family members that are starting to get a bit older. I’d like to see them while I still have the chance. I’ve been meaning to go see them for a while now.

I looked up the cost of a bus ticket. $106 one-way. Then I checked the price of an airline ticket. $126 round-trip. Wow. What a deal! But then I remembered that I’d heard about needing a COVID-19 test to be able to travel. I wonder how much that costs?

And then I realized that I’ve probably been exposed to the virus and that my desire to see my relatives before it’s too late really isn’t in their best interests, health-wise.

Plus, there are quarantine requirements there and here if I remember correctly.

The ability of the average person to freely travel is really being locked down. How much of these precautions are legitimate? How much is government overreach? Why was there never a huge bump in numbers after the closely packed protests and riots? When do things go back to normal? Next year? Next month? It’s really amazing and fascinating how questionable reality has become in the last 4-5 years.

It’s a testament to the power of the media to shape our understanding of the world. And probably a testament to the dangers of building profitability for a “news” site around ad revenue rather than subscriptions. Things probably went truly wrong with Facebook and Twitter, though. It became too easy to boost misleading and untrue narratives into the national consciousness.

Anyway, I’ll have to put off my travel for a bit longer. Until I’m sure I’m not going to ride into my relative’s homes on a white horse.

Harry Potter and the Model Weasley Family

The Weasley Family at breakfast

I’m really late to the party, the first book in the series having been published in 1997 when I was still in high school, but I’ve been borrowing the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series from the New York Public Library and I’m really enjoying them. I think I would have loved them as a kid but I was going through a phase where I was really into church dogma and the Harry Potter series was said to be evil and demonic because it supposedly encouraged children to engage in witchcraft.

Putting aside the question of whether witchcraft is real or not, I can see how the Harry Potter series was threatening to organized religion. It provides an alternative fantasy world that presents a set of moral values in a compelling way and, even when it doesn’t conflict with the church’s vision of morality, it competes for attention. I’d guess Harry Potter is probably winning that contest too, given the success of the books and movies and the ever dwindling levels of church attendance.

I wonder how much of the church’s problems these days comes from an insistence on biblical literalism? It’s been a while since I studied the Bible, either academically or religiously, but I do recall that many of the stories have parallels in other nearby cultures. For example, the story of Moses and the flood is essentially the same story as the Epic of Gilgamesh with modifications to fit the local culture. That alone should tell us that stories in the Bible were meant to be educational rather than literal history. It makes more sense to tell someone that they should be looking at a story in the Bible for moral guidance than to tell them to take it as literal word from God history and expect that story’s relevance to endure over any length of time.

And maybe that’s why Harry Potter does so well. We know it’s not word from God and we don’t face the choice of having to either swallow it whole or throw it out. We can instead appreciate it and think about it and try to apply it to our lives if it makes sense in relation to what we understand to be good and bad.

All of these thoughts congealed in my head as I started to realize how the Weasleys were being presented in the books. They may not have fancy clothes and they may not always get along but they value what’s important in life: their kids, each other, friendship, and (in Molly and Arthur’s case) their kids’ education. In addition, even though they’re struggling they essentially adopt Harry into the family, so there’s a lot of love and charity being displayed there. They share even when there’s not much to give. They’re loyal. They do things together. It’s sort of a model for the proper behavior of a family, especially when it comes in such stark contrast to how Harry is treated by his aunt and uncle. The fact that both Harry and Hermione later marry into the Weasley family reinforces the idea that they represent an ideal family.

I’m only partway through the fourth book and I wasn’t really thinking about the story too deeply until now, but there’s really more in these books than shallow entertainment. I’m not really surprised. I don’t think they would have done so well if they didn’t have something substantive to offer readers.

Cabin in the Woods

I used to think that needing a cabin in the woods to do any serious writing was over-dramatic and a little elitist. I’m thinking of people who have a summer cottage or any separate dwelling that they can go to for weeks at a time to tune out the world and just focus on writing.

I still think it’s elitist. I mean, how many people can really afford a second place to live? Or in this case, a second residence to just have on call for when you want a little solitude? I imagine most people are lucky if they even have a separate room where they can lock the door and be alone for a while and that doesn’t really, fully separate you mentally from the day-to-day because you can always be interrupted.

I feel like a person needs some space to be creative. A place to truly relax and let their mind run wild, where there are no pets, family, routines, or chores insistently tugging at the edges of one’s consciousness.

My wife was pretty good about giving me space when she saw I was trying to complete writing assignments, but I sometimes wonder how I managed to get through college with such good grades on the papers I turned in.

The next time we move, I’d like to try to find a place with an extra room. Or, if it’s outside of New York City, a place with a garage or shed that I can convert into a study. That way, when I have time, it’s easier to focus.