*This post was an exercise in extemporaneous writing written on September 2nd, 2018.
Submit. The word comes to mind because I find myself submitting to the limitations of my mind and body—quite often. I trek over to the coffee shop in hopes that the aroma will inspire some sort of productivity. I arrive to find that my drowsiness hasn’t left. Even after a cup of coffee, I’m relatively unproductive. I can’t focus, and I definitely can’t read Aquinas. “Is truth immutable? What is logically prior to the True? Whether falsity exists in things themselves?” Who cares! Less than a day earlier I was enthralled with Aquinas’ ruthless and inquisitive conciseness. Now, I’m just bored.
Instead of reading Aquinas or working on graduate applications, I find myself reading A Jane Austin Education, which I’ve read before. It’s a biographical tale of a graduate student’s experience of reluctantly reading Jane Austin. The author discovers that Austin’s works are profound and contain powerful truths. Each chapter is a summary of one of Austin’s works intertwined with biographical details from the student’s life. Stories of the mistakes he made during his first year of graduate school. Particulars about the crummy apartment he lived in or his overbearing father that taught at the same school. It’s a breezy read that contains just enough practical wisdom distributed throughout each chapter. I simple can’t handle anything else right now.
I’m submitting. There’s no point in struggling at this point. Gravity is a real thing. Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about the deep brokenness of life—specifically in regard to mental illness. My friends offer stories of broken marriages. Others tells of neighbors who sexually abuse their children. Those close to me reveal their psychological limitations that need to be regulated by pharmaceuticals while others reveal dark details of familial mental illness. It’s tough stuff. No amount of rationalizing or romanticizing will fix it. We all have hopes and dreams, but mental illness doesn’t seem to care. It’s indifferent.
The word “submit” is not a word that we like much. It has a ring of authoritarianism to it. It doesn’t scream “freedom” like Mel Gibson in Braveheart. It’s not very American. Just saying it feels like you’re giving up. On the other hand, I often think of the “submit” button on online forms. I recall finishing up a long paper in college and finally being able to press “submit.” I had worked hard, and now it was time to “submit.” That moment brought both freedom and fear. Freedom that the work was complete and fear that it was out of my hands. The Stoics spent a lot of time meditating on their limitations. They spoke of one’s “sphere of control.” This is basically just your ability to choose; everything else is outside of your control. You can’t change the fact that you are drowsy. You can’t change the fact that you may be inclined towards certain mental illnesses. You can’t change the fact that you’re five foot eight. What you can control is your choice.
Living well seems to be an art. If so, it should definitely be the highest form of art—if that’s a thing. Yet my gut feeling is that these artists differ greatly in occupation and disposition. Some are executives while others are plumbers. Some are monks while others are musicians. Religion and faith deal these cards. They help one live well. They offer a better way to live, as does philosophy—at least in theory. Well, I’ve reached my one page goal for today, so I’ll leave you with a quote.
“Life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel.”Horace Walpol