Life is absurd…Life is short!
(The following is an adaptation of a recent speech I gave at a symposium about “life”, there isn’t as much about climbing/nature as you might expect, but there is a bit of climbing, and if you stick around long enough, there is a story about me getting peed on. I hope you enjoy it. -Carrot)
The latter idea is not something that can be explained, I don’t think we truly understand just how short life is, and if by chance we grasp that concept; for most of us it is almost too late to do anything about. So I’m not going to sit here and urge you to take advantage of the short amount of time that you have, I believe I’d be wasting my breath if I did!
But the idea that life is absurd; that’s something I think we can sink our teeth into! Think about what is happening right now, you’re in a room that no one really knows about, in a place that no one has really ever heard of, reading a piece that none of you will ever remember…we’re just biological matter spinning senselessly on a tiny rock in a corner of an indifferent universe, with no roadmap, and no bigger point. All of our lives are absurd in the grander scheme, all our efforts will be largely futile, our existence soon forgotten, and our species irredeemably corrupt and violent. And if you think for a second that you somehow standout, then try explaining that to the other 113 billion people whose names you’ll never know, whose faces you’ll never see, but have shared the same experience of riding this spinning blue marble to eventual annihilation. We’re merely specks on a dot, hurling toward a ball of fire…Life is absurd!
If we can agree to the absurdity of life, then we must ask ourselves, why follow someone else’s rules. Philosopher Albert Camus, a byproduct of the existentialist movement recognized the absurdity of life, and recommends that we do something about it, and while we cannot change the fruitlessness and meaningless charge of the absurd, that does not mean we cannot enjoy it.
Camus famously tells and inverts the tale of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill every day, only for it to roll down when it nears the top every night, repeating this action for eternity. This task both laborious and futile is seen as the ultimate punishment for Sisyphus’ sin of zigging, while everyone else was zagging. What Camus points out, is that the story fails to mention that each night Sisyphus gets to walk down the hill un-weighted by the burdens of his punishment, and in closing suggests that we must imagine Sisyphus happy. In case you missed the metaphor, everything we do is futile, but to dwell on that idea, forces us to miss the moments in between. The moments where we get to turn our nose at the absurd and enjoy living!
Living of course is not to be equated with being alive. Living of course demands that when given the opportunity we zig while everyone else zags…living of course is not supposed to be comfortable, that is reserved for the dying.
As fellow existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche advises: “the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge!”
My oldest sister who has always been a personal hero of mine once told me “if you’re going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance”.
Let me share a quick story about one of the first rules I ever broke…I was maybe 9 years old, let me back up and preface this by saying my mom was a DRAGON, you did not want to break her rules, or punishments were going to be REAL. I learned from my older sisters that our Mom was not to be tested, because She. Would. Win. So I was usually a pretty good kid, but there was this one night, I tested the thickness of the ice.
When I went running around the neighborhood with my friends, I had one rule as far as curfew was concerned. Be home before the streetlights come on. My buddies and I had it down to a science, just before the lights came on there was a buzz, which let us know we had about 5 minutes before the lights were at their luminary capacity. Once that buzz became audible all the neighborhood kids scattered in different directions like a cow pissing on a flat rock.
But on this day, my friend Chad and I pushed the limit. There was a brand new row of houses being built on a new street, and none of the utilities were put in place yet, we thought it would be a good time to check out the sewers, and so we popped the manhole cover, and down we climbed…we were in the dark and away from the buzz of the streetlights, and so we knew, or at least I knew the original mother of dragons (my mom) was going to burn my ass once I got home.
But things got worse, Davey Frame and rest of the big kids showed up and while they didn’t mind me, they did NOT like Chad. They told him that if he tried to climb up, they would pee on him, and that he was never getting out of the sewer. I’m pretty sure Chad could have waited them out, but my fear of mi Mater Familias was much greater than my fear of a golden shower….it’s one thing to miss the street lights, it was quite another to miss dinner, and that was not a rule I was willing to break.
So I took a deep breath, tucked my chin, and faced the rain, Chad climbed behind me, unscathed by the deluge of maze precipitant. The whiz kids (as they shall forever be known) couldn’t contain their laughter as we ascended from our subterranean cavern. Just as their laughter started to wane, Jennifer King, the prettiest girl in my class shows up. It’s bad enough that I’m the only one who got showered, but now Jennifer King is witness to an embarrassed future philosopher soaked in piss.
Davey Frame was scary, and I made it a rule to not get into it with the older kids, but something got into me that night (it was probably urine). And I pushed him HARD, and told him if he ever disrespected me, or any of my friends again, it would be him who is covered in piss! He dare not retaliate unless he wanted to be drenched in his own pee.
Chad, Jennifer, and I walked home together…I was pretty quiet on the way home as I was afraid of being murdered by my mom for:
a) Missing curfew
b) Missing dinner, and
c) Being covered in piss.
Chad lived at the end of the block so he ran off. When we got to my house, I was looking down, ready to head in, when Jennifer grabbed me by the chin, lifted my head and plopped a kiss right on my lips. That was my first kiss, and it left an impression, because I remember it like it was yesterday!
It went from being one of the worst days ever to one of the best days ever, and good or bad none of that happens, if didn’t agree to bend the rules a little bit. I was really late that day, but I learned a valuable lesson…my sister was right, if you are going to walk on thin ice, you might as well dance!
To summarize, I stayed out late to explore a sewer, got peed on, and had my 1stkiss while soaked in urine. Life is absurd! Sometimes in life the risk outweighs the reward, sometimes it doesn’t.
Please understand that I am not saying to go out and break the rules wantonly, but I am saying you’re here…and I’m here, and in the short amount of time that we are on this ride together, why would we waste a moment letting others dictate the point to us, find your own point…make your own point, and if you are lucky, then perhaps you’ll get a chance to dance along the way!
Let me close with a
somewhat long winded quote video from the philosopher Alan Watts… (Click HERE)
Take risks my friends, find a reason to walk on thin ice, make life worth living, and don’t forget to sing and dance along the way!