May You Live in Interesting Times

Thursday 4 December 2014

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities ~ I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not ~ that one endures

~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, then.  That's a little harsh at first glance, innit?

I can tell how much anxiety I'm bombarded with by how I respond to that above quote.

When I am feeling super-dooper ill and my anxiety has flared like it's Black Saturday, I wish to smash Mr Nietzsche right in his (rather handsome) face and then curl up in a ball and vanish into thin air.  At those times, I have gone way past the point of acceptance and I am just screaming for it all to stop.  Sometimes, anxiety overwhelms to the point where you don't feel you can climb out of anywhere.

When I am feeling better, and have, say, increased my vitamin D levels to 10,000IU a day, I believe that our dear Freidrich is quite right on this score.  I say it with some trepidation though, because I don't believe the loneliness we feel in our suffering is helped by living in a culture whose parts are so disconnected from the whole.  I don't believe that the stiff upper lip of letting people drown in their suffering without knowing you are there to assist them helps anything at all.  And so I add to Mr Nietzsche's statement - we should be ready to assist other people to endure their suffering better.

But even so, if I had a magic wand to relieve your suffering, I would wave it, because you have to have a magic wand waving experience once in your life, surely?  And because I have an overwhelming desire to be a fairy godmother.  And anyway, it's not like you're not going to have another 10,000 bouts of suffering to learn to endure under, coming right up behind today.

If there is one lesson I will learn and forget over and over again until the day I die it is possibly this.  It's not what happens to you, it's how you respond.  I seem to have, somewhere deep down in the unconscious murk, developed a resistance to life as it is presented to me.  And so for me, I'm taking a little longer than some to realise that acceptance is not weakness.  It is the most amazing, durable spiderweb strength.  Like a still pond that can turn further downstream into rushing water.

The sophisticated, classy, empathetic human who results from this lesson is worth all of the pain that goes beforehand.  I have quite a large dose of that third element, but I'm going for the first and the second :)

Endurance is a difficult beast, though.  It seems that for some of us at least, the very darkest times are those where for hours or days or months you are cut off from being able to respond appropriately to that which is tormenting you in the first place.  Your ability to respond in a way that will help your own self is for the moment defunct.  At those times, your central nervous system has gone haywire.   (And in an age where chemicals continue to be poured into our environment on a relentlessly ongoing basis, we can't expect not to be affected.  I do believe though that we are beginning to make the slow connection to the fact that we are not islands, and if the merchants amongst us can't resist defecating in their own nest for their own profit, then we must continue speaking out until they stop.  But I digress.)

Sometimes, you can't gird your loins up to even climb back on that rather delicious knife edge of life where, despite your desire for the easy ride, you receive whatever happens to you with grace, knowing that your response is terribly important.  Knowing that doorways open up from this space that you can't get to otherwise.  On the other side of that is joy and resilience, hidden right in the middle of a busy city street.

Days you've fallen off the edge of the knife and on the way through it's sliced you in half, and you're spending hours, days, weeks, trying to get back to the you that is whole (even while at the very same time it is all inside you, complete.  You know it is, because the last time you were chopped up into 19 pieces you came back again and suddenly there you were, in some faint semblance of a coherent whole).

On those days when you are sliced in half, the kindness of strangers and friends helps staunch the blood flow, helps you endure-without-enduring until you can get back to those spaces where again you can climb back up onto the edge of the knife where hardship gives birth to joy.  This, surely, is why compassionate people enjoy the virtues of universal healthcare and welfare.  Because so many of us fall down below the waterline.  A sophisticated society helps people up, resisting the urge to blame.  A person who lives in such a society receives strength at their worst times.  Such things create resilience until people can climb back onto the knife's edge once more.

May you have the strength to live well in interesting times.  And may you be held up in the times when you don't.

(Inspired by Brain Picking's post on difficulty)


  1. It seems to me there's no need to wish calamity on anyone Mr N., calamity and just general discombobulation will appear of its own free will. And I agree with you, Ms S. that the way we respond depends on how we feel. I think I do try to gird my loins when I think I can, knowing that any minute now, I will not be able to. I never really know if I'm being too hard on myself or too easy. I'm not Malala, but I'm not a sociopath. These are my points of reference :) I'm reminded of a quote from Castaway (and well yes as a matter of fact, it is from one of my cards, because I like it) 'I stayed alive, I kept breathing, and one day my logic was proved all wrong because the tide came in, and gave me a sail.'
    May your tide come in and give you a sail this very day [waves hands in ritualistic fashion]

    1. This "I'm not Malala, I'm not sociopath" ritual dance has been extremely pleasurable. Thanks :)

  2. Recieving strength from the society you live in when your at your worst. Isnt that Copenhagen?

    1. Those Nordic countries seem to have such a rational view of these things, don't they?

      (I wish they'd give up on their stupid quest to extradite Assange though)

    2. Except that Copenhagen is in Denmark, Sue, you dolt)


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