All the Befores and Afters Lead to Now: Thinking about the Absurd

o-STRESS-TIPS-570When you are seventy, there is one helluva  lot of “afters.”  And historically speaking there are just as many “befores.” Futuristically speaking, there will always be a diminishing supply of both.  Inevitably such  considerations lead to the absurd, even ridiculous, which can be depressing or amusing — sufficiently so that one wonders why bother with such thoughts. Without caution and discipline a man can make of his Golden Years either a heaven or a hell.  Retirement can be either opportune or inopportune for discovering the absurd.

My dictionary of philosophy and religion does not define absurd which seems absurd in itself.  The term must not be considered philosophical or religious so let’s go with Wikipedia which says “absurdism” expresses the conflict between human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and human inability to find any. Oops, I changed the word,  Very well, I changed the word, but the idea is still with us.  Anyway, this is what I want to write about: absurdism.  So why, you ask, are you considering this at seventy?  The answer may be that I thought too much in the sixty-nine years before or I haven’t settled on a good story to explain life, yet I know I have.  I’ll get to this. Oh, I would add that the absurd must also be unreasonable and incongruous.

I have to admit that I have been obsessed with a need for inherent value and meaning in life.  And I haven’t been entirely satisfied in finding anything absolute either. Perhaps, meaning can only come through imagination. Oh, I can see meaning in being fruitful, multiplying and parenting, in being soldier or policeman, lawyer or pharmacist, in farming, teaching, in short in most any calling or decent human endeavor.

It has taken me a lifetime and perhaps to this very moment, to realize that all of these specific, relative and contingent callings give life its meaning and value.  Teaching a dog to play ball has its value. and inherent meaning.  A taste for the little in life is required.

We value the befores for the promise of accomplishment.  In the before we begin naively, perhaps romantically, and then in the after take reward in the triumph of experience and realism and that we survived from before to after.  The before is a place of mystery and illusion that gives way to truth and understanding.  The process is what makes regret absurd.

No, it is the pursuit of absolutes that makes life messy and us miserable; and desperate whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.  In the afters we learn children can be mean, priests sinful, parents ignorant, teachers wrong, soldiers savage, politicians lying and ourselves silly — so on it goes.

By seventy I have learned that logic and reason also fail. I shall always be incredulous regarding Immaculate Conception, Resurrection, Damnation, Beatification, Incarnation et cetera. As Spock would say, “They are not logical.”

” But Spock, the logical fails, too.”

After logic, reason and  the absolutes all fail, what remains is story,  narrative, gospel.  Nothing explains the afters and befores better than the story if it be a good story.  And only the story makes sense of Now.

David Milliken


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