"We can only live in the present moment, in this brief now; all the rest of our life is dead and buried or shrouded in uncertainty. Short is the life we lead and small our patch of earth." -Marcus Aurelius The more that I try to diffuse this statement with my own wisdom, the more I am convinced that I'm coming up against truth. It seems that when taking in the fragility of our condition, men resort to metaphors of transience in our natural surroundings. A small patch of earth. Vapor. The morning dew. Grass and the harvest; the threshing floor.
I have made it a point to leave the city once a month, not necessarily to connect with nature or breathe some cleaner air (though both of those things blessedly happen), but to recalibrate my senses to a world that neither I nor any of my kind created. A city maintains its heartbeat by borrowing the life cycle of its surroundings to rebuild, board up, pave and solder its facade together. It is a borrowed vibrance, existing ignorantly within a mega-cycle of destruction and renewal. The country reminds me that this process is visceral, near; it does not depend on the quality of my day or my route to work or my existence. Since I only occupy the millisecond that I have, it will seem full. In reality, I am running past a single shop window, peering at my breathless reflection and the scene that takes place in my passing.
That my most lofty contributions are nothing more than a punctuation mark in the copyedit of the world's story is shocking and disappointing and immensely relieving. I walk among the trees and find I have no place to go to become more or less meaningful, and doesn't power find its source in alternatives?
Solace and reconciliation between the smallness of my actions and the grandness of my perception come in the truth that in the Economy I have been brought into, significance depends not on the intrinsic worth of a person or a thing but rather in the proportion of affection and care directed toward it, even in its frailty. In extending this plowline in my tiny plot--the empowerment of grace given to me, then given away--I am sown into the divine terrain, fleeting but necessary. After all, semicolons and apostrophes and parentheses demarcate and make sense of every story we love--even in Joyce's ramblings, we must breathe somewhere. We cannot escape their implication. These blots--the forgotten saints, the ones who don't make sense, the word you repeat in isolation until it seems to be from another world (and I mean all of us)-- are utterly forgettable on our own, yet our removal en masse turns prose into rambling, order into chaos.
Back on shore, I realize that Aurelius is not demeaning existence. He is affirming it in its right size. And in a city of 23 million, stretching from ancient lakebeds highland plains, thick with sighs and human inertia, I have never needed more pointed affirmation that there is worth in the microscopic and supersonic trajectory of life. This affirmation, in blunt contrast to the fragrance of the times--is not found within. You must go outside--yourself, your house, your commute, your mind that has become your home-- to take stock of your patch, to survey your bounds, to husband your brief now. Begin.