Life within limits

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Oliver Burkeman:

A life fully lived just is painfully bittersweet, the joy inextricably intertwined with loss. The major chapters of life, such as your children’s childhoods, just will feel like they’re over too fast, pretty much whatever you do.

I am forty-five years old and I’m still trying to accept this, even after years spent reading in wisdom traditions that teach this very thing. It is as if there is a small part of me that knows it is true while everything else within me fights it.

Burkeman writes that it is only when you realize “it’s worse than you think” – that is, you’re not just struggling to get what you want done, you will never get everything you want done – that you can shift your focus from the impossible tasks to the merely difficult ones.

In my ideal life, I would be husband, father, hiker, gardener, philosopher, and writer. In my actual life, I am a husband, father, and accountant who sometimes finds time for those other things. I would dearly love to develop a coherent vision of dark green religion, integrating Robinson Jeffers, Lao Tzu, Wendell Berry, and pantheism – then write about it beautifully and live it every day. What I actually do is throw some semi-coherent thoughts on this blog and try (alongside Rachel) to build a decent backyard garden that attracts bees and butterflies. It’s the trade-off that everyone who has to work for a living is familiar with, and I freely acknowledge that my situation is better than most.

Life is full of decisions that close the door on an unknown number of opportunities. There are many things I could have been that I will never be. And yet, I’m very happy with my life. This is due in some ways to sustained work and in other ways to pure luck. (That’s my answer to the question of how to have a good marriage: hard work and dumb luck.) This combination of will and accident is what makes us humans rather than gods. It is difficult to accept the reality of limits: so many possibilities live within your mind yet virtually everything is out of your control. This is the fundamental contradiction and much of the evil in the world exists because of its denial.

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