‘. . . Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. . .’

my powers lying wasted

my powers lying wasted

Yet another [well-meaning, I’m sure] friend emailed me to ask if I am ok based on my posting of last night. She was certain I am obsessed with death, and that cannot be healthy.

I have two primary struggles at the moment. The first is the sling which I am sentenced to hold/ rest/ immobilize my left arm until December 20, my next appointment with the surgeon, dr. Steven Thornton [that’s 21 days and 6 hours from this moment].

The other is this wonderful new Lenovo computer a good friend helped me buy a week ago. I will love it when I figure some things out. Like all new laptops these days, it has touch-screen. I don’t have a clue how to use it. Mysteries abound. It has no ‘start’ icon, so I don’t know how to power it up and down.

The first struggle is related to the second, obviously, because I have to type with one hand [typos such as missing upper case letters are the result of that inconvenience, and such niceties happen when msword makes them happen automatically—deal with it].

I purchased Dragon and the computer help desk at smu installed it on the Lenovo. Dragon is a voice recognition program which works wonders for grading papers but which is useless for writing. I can think no faster than I can type, so speaking is not writing. It’s blathering. Besides, what I deal with daily is hypergraphia, not hyperdictia [my invented word for ‘running-off-at-the-mouth’].

So this writing is slowed down to a crawl, and it’s impossible that I’m obsessed with anything, death or anything else, except hunt-and-peck typing. So the following is probably hunt-and-peck thinking.

Not too long ago I was involved in a conversation which, in retrospect, seems more like that of two college sophomores [can you spell ‘sophomoric?’] than two old grumps in their 60s. we were talking about ‘the meaning of life,’ and I was saying that I don’t see much reason to believe in an afterlife. He’s a somewhat devout roman catholic, so his view is a bit different from mine [although, of course, ‘gay’ and ‘roman catholic’ are mutually exclusive, so his logic is a priori suspect].

He quoted [almost correctly] Goethe’s statement that, ‘It is quite impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing, a cessation of thought and life. In this sense everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.’ It took me awhile to find that the aphorism is attributed to Goethe by Johann Peter Eckermann, in Conversations with Goethe, 1852.

I suppose that’s close to the intellectual underpinning of Faust—the only way to be certain to live forever[hence negating the need to imagine one’s ‘nonbeing’] is to sell one’s soul to the devil. Or something. I’m neither philosopher nor literary critic enough to make that kind of pronouncement.

At any rate, my friend said that, because it’s ‘quite impossible for a thinking being to imagine nonbeing,’ one [that is, I] should stop thinking about death and get on with life, ‘living in the moment.’

Of course, his logic is as fallacious as the logic of essays I read daily by college sophomores.

A thinking being might be able to imagine nonbeing more than to imagine being. I’m willing to admit this may be the [somewhat specialized] thinking of a TLEptic, a child suffering the dissociation of temporal lobe epilepsy, but my great youthful question to myself was, ‘how do I know I exist; how do I know I’m not the figment of someone’s imagination?’ There, Goethe, put that in your pipe and smoke it!

So I’m not obsessed with death. I’m obsessed with life. Not the life of getting and spending and laying waste our powers. I have not become a wordsworthian romantic.

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.     
—–Wordsworth, William, 1770–1850.

But I want to avoid the world too much with me. I get and spend with the best of them. Well, not quite. Alice Walton and I are hardly in a ‘getting’ contest, much less a ‘spending’ contest. I expect her wealth is her attempt to hedge her bets against ‘nonbeing, a cessation of thought and life.’ But if Goethe is right, she shouldn’t worry because the mere fact she chooses not to think about being dead means that she’s immortal. Really?

Rather, she chooses, like all of us, not to think about it. In Rosencrantz’s words, ‘I wouldn’t think about it if I were you, you’ll only get depressed” (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, tom Stoppard).

So I don’t know where I meant to go with this. Only to say I think if you’re 68 years old and aren’t thinking about these things, you’re gonna run up against nonbeing without having been in the most crucial way. If we’re the only animals who know we’re going to die, then pretending not to know it is avoiding—no, denying—the very reality that makes us human.

One Response to ‘. . . Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. . .’

  1. Pingback: ‘. . . your old men shall dream dreams . . .’ | Me, senescent

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