love. week fifteen.
city. new york city
The monk, lounging gracefully atop his misty mountain, gazes peacefully out across a restless earth. The priest, in his virginal innocence, lends a helping hand to his tired and hungry neighbors. The artist, in her secluded studio, shapes a chaotic and brutal world into a sublime expression of beauty and coherence.
Each, in their own way, disentangle themself from the struggles, torments, and confusions of ordinary life, and attempts to erect a bridge upon which, if they balance well enough, they might transcend it all.
But I… I say ‘yes!’ to toil as well as to grace, I say ‘yes!’ to grief as well as to intimacy, I say ‘yes!’ to chaos as well as to beauty. Far too much ground is lost in our all too hasty retreat before the demons of the world. Those who crouch behind fortifications and take shelter amongst snowy peaks will never know the devilish joys and melancholic smiles that are hidden in plain sight. On the contrary, they've assigned themselves with the task of designing their own prison, where, like the ancient Pharaohs, they wish to remain willfully entombed even while alive.
This, here, now, is life. I choose to embrace life, fully, bravely; and through my embrace, love it. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto. I am human, and I think nothing human is foreign to me.
The monks, priests, and artists of the world watch incredulously as those around them dedicate their lives to money, power, and pleasure. They think to themselves, “What is the use of all this money, power, or pleasure, if it is not in service of life itself? if it is not improving life in some way? After all, does life itself really need any of these things? Watch—here, now—as I demonstrate through my meditations, my charity, my creativity that life asks for very little money (etc.) if at all. Here is my life, in this moment; now, tell me how money and power could possibly improve that! If it can’t, then lay down your false idols, and worship the wonderful miracle which is existence itself.”
And, in their way, the priests, monks, and artists are correct. There is an absurdity to life that is simply universal, simply unavoidable. As the wise king wrote 3000 years ago, just before his death: “I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored: and, behold, all was vanity and frustration, and there was no profit under the sun.” In their way, the monks of the world are right to look at all this meaningless, ceaseless effort and say, “No thank you. I’m good. I’m just gna chill over here while you guys work yourselves silly.”
But maybe there’s another way.
I sometimes imagine all of existence as a flat surface. Like this:
Then, I imagine myself as a vertical plane. Like this:
When I was born, the two lines were exactly perpendicular. Like this:
They barely even touched. After all, I had experienced very little of life. Most of life remained an absolute mystery. Uncharted territory.
Throughout my life, then, my goal is to slowly and carefully lay myself down across existence, until I am entirely pressed up against its full expanse. In other words, until I’ve said ‘yes!’ to all that’s before me. Now, I know this is an impossible task, and my exposure will probably always oscillate along with my moods and cycles, but I think I can make some progress. I think I have made some progress. And, maybe on some warm cloudless night in the distant future, when I’ve allowed myself to open up to myself, and have offered myself up as a pawn in all of life’s funny little games, only then might I, in the very faintest purr that’s instantly picked up and scattered in the wind, whisper for everyone and no one to hear: “I think I’m in love.”
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I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science