Sometimes the most obvious things about life need to be talked about.
It's easy to overlook them not in spite of their obviousness, but because the familiar tends to fade into the background, while new stuff grabs our attention.
So here's a few obvious truths about life:
-- Life is finite. It comes to an end for every living being. Including us humans.
-- Life is uncertain. We can hope for the best, but sometimes the worst happens.
-- Life is about caring. We care, because what we're concerned about is finite and uncertain.
I've been reminded about these truths by reading a fascinating book by Martin Hägglund, "This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom." It's over 400 pages long. Yet Hägglund's core concepts are quite simple, three of which I shared above.
Now, I realize that many people believe in eternity, being religious. There's a lot of talk about eternity in this book. I'm going to ignore that subject, other than to say that Hägglund argues persuasively that even if eternity exists, it isn't something desirable.
At the very least, and I think this point is virtually inarguable, the life each of us is living now is in no way eternal, nor perfect (eternity presupposes a certain perfection, since nothing changes in eternity).
Thus whenever we care, whenever we exert ourselves to nourish and protect what we love -- whether this be a person, animal, cause, object, or whatever -- we do so because the object of our caring is finite, and it could fall apart if we don't act to help keep it together. Of course, it might fall apart anyway, even if we act.
Again, in no way is this news to anybody. It just bears repeating.
One reason this is necessary is that most of us have a strong desire to look on the bright side. Usually when I go grocery shopping, as I did today, a clerk will say something to me like, "So how's your day going? Got anything exciting planned later on?"
There's a social expectation that I'll answer in some positive fashion. It would be jarring to tell the clerk, though honest at times, "My day is going like crap. I've got nothing planned other than to hope tomorrow will be better."
I'm not suggesting that we bare our souls at the checkout counter, since these brief chats while our credit card is being processed aren't the right time to share our most intimate secrets. Still, I've found that being as honest as possible often leads to a more interesting conversation.
Sometimes I'll respond to "How's your day going?" with "Fine, so long as I don't listen to the news. Then I get anxious and depressed." This is an exaggeration, though not hugely so. It usually elicits a reply like "I hear you. I feel the same way."
We're all in this finite life together. The boat of our body and mind is going to sink one day.
Keeping it afloat, and in decent working condition, for as long as possible, requires a lot of attention from ourselves and many others: friends, relatives, doctors, teachers, all of the people who interact in such complex and fascinating ways in the society that surrounds us.
To mix metaphors, no one is an island. We're all connected. We're all dependent. We're all caring. We're all in need of care.
A one-page article in the current issue of TIME magazine makes some of the same points that Martin Hägglund makes in his big thick book.
Here's some excerpts from "Tell kids the truth: hard work doesn't always pay off." It was written by Rachel Simmons, author of Enough as She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy and Fulfilling Lives.
The humbling, brutal, messy reality is that you can do everything in your power and still fail.
... Instead of allowing our kids to beat themselves up when things don't go their way, we should all question a culture that has taught them that feeling anything less than overwhelmed means they're lazy, that how they perform for others is more important than what actually inspires them, and that where they go to college matters more than the kind of person they are.
The point is not to give our kids a pass on working hard. But fantasizing that they can control everything is not really resilience. We would be wise to remind our kids that life has a way of sucker-punching us when we least expect it. It's often the people who learn to say "stuff happens" who get up the fastest.
(I wrote a post on my Church of the Churchless blog about Hägglund's book, "What sustains us is caring in time, not detachment in eternity.")