August 20, 2013
Michael Gerson and Thomas Smith on Transitory Goods
Michael Gerson has a typically thoughtful piece at the Washington Post today, but it is much more--a beautiful reflection on the joys and sorrows of parenting and the elusiveness of goods in life: "Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough." My colleague Thomas Smith wrote insightfully about this theme in a lecture on Tolkien's Catholic imagination, recently republished in a festschrift. A bit:
The point is that the transitory goods of this world are beautiful and attractive to us, and yet even as we enjoy them, we have an inkling that they will pass away – just as we will. Our enjoyment is mixed with grief because of the sense of impending loss. This is why the Buddha speaks of existence as suffering. He does not mean that there is no happiness in life. Nor does he mean that sometimes painful moments follow happy ones in turn. Rather, he says that life is like honey on a razor; we are cut as we taste its sweetness. Even in our most joyful experiences, a tragic sense lurks that they shall pass. We tend to push that away, shielding ourselves through various distractions. We also tend to cling possessively to our positive experiences and people, unwilling to let them slip through our grasp. Clearly, the ordinary sufferings of sickness, old age, or mental pain constitute part of the suffering of mortal life. Yet there is also suffering even in our joy because of the flow of time. For the Buddha, at the heart of suffering is a clinging possessiveness that expects the universe to meet all our demands, that refuses to let the world flow on through time because this flow frustrates our wish that enjoyment should last.
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