A Confession, part 7
Because I could not find the answer in science, I turned to life and to the people around me, to see what their answer was to the question I was asking. I should point out that I was looking at people who were, for the most part, like myself well educated and rich. And in this circle of friends I found four different ways that these people acted. The first group were those who had never asked themselves the question I was asking. They lived their lives without thinking about the dragon at the bottom of the well. Most of the people in this group were women, children, and some men who were not very smart. These people were happy to spend their lives tasting the drops of honey on the leaves of the branch that they were hanging on, and they did it without seeing what the mice of time were doing to the branch. I could not learn from these people, because I could see the dragon and the mice very clearly, and I could not turn time back to the way I had been before seeing all of this.
The second group were those who could see the problem, but they chose to take as much honey as they could before falling into the mouth of the dragon. They did all that they could to feel good, hoping that it would help them to forget the truth about death. Solomon said that he tried this for a time. He said, "I tried to be happy, because there is no better thing under the sun that a person can do than to eat, drink, and be happy. So, eat your bread and drink your wine with a happy heart, and look for happiness in your wife for as many days as you have left before you die. Do all that you can now, because there will be no more time for it after you are dead."
That was the way that most of the people in my circle of friends lived their lives. They were rich enough that they could do it, and they were stupid enough in spiritual things that they did not think about how their being rich made others poor. They did not think that for every man who has a thousand wives, there must be a thousand men who have no wife, and for every family that lives in a king's house, there are a thousand who must work very hard to have only the humblest house. They did not think that their place in the world as a Solomon might be only an accident of birth, or that another accident could make them Solomon's slave tomorrow. They were smart enough to know that sickness, death, and old age would come to them, but their minds were thick enough that they could forget these things at will. They call this ability to forget "positive thinking", but I could not see this as smart at all, and I could not force myself to follow them. Time and death are too important for a smart person to forget them.
The third way is the one that takes the most strength. It is to destroy your life after you have seen that it is a cruel joke. The people who do this seemed to me to be the strongest and most honest. They know that it is better to be dead than to be alive, and so they act in agreement with what they know, and they end their lives. There are many ways to do it: tying a rope around one's neck, drowning, putting a knife in one's heart, or jumping in front of the trains. And the number of people in our circle who act in this way is growing. It is interesting to learn that, for the most part, they do this at the best time of their life, when their minds are the strongest, and the truth is clearest. I could see that this was the most honest thing to do, but I was not strong enough to do it.
The fourth way out is the one I was taking at that time. It is the weakest way. People in this group hug the branch and wait. We see the dragon and the mice, and we know what is coming, but we do not have the strength to let go and end it all; so we live our lives in fear.
Try as I did, I could not find any other way that the people I knew lived their lives. Only these four patterns could be found. Because I could see by then that death is real, I could not follow the first group, who know nothing better. Because I could not forget what I had seen, I could not follow the second group, who drown their sadness in alcohol and music. Because I feared death I was not strong enough to take my life, as the third group did. So I was forced into the fourth group, with Solomon and Schopenhauer, where we go on living, but every day is a pain.
I see now that one reason why I did not kill myself may have been that I could feel in my heart that there was something wrong with my reasoning, and that there was an answer that I had missed. It went like this: I could see nothing higher than reason. It seems that reason must have made life. And yet my reason told me that life has no meaning. How could reason make something that has no reason? I felt there must be something wrong in this.
I said to myself, Life is stupid and bad, and yet I am still living; and people from all times have lived and many of them are still living. Am I and Schopenhauer the only smart people on the earth today? My argument showing that life has no meaning is not a difficult argument, and yet millions of people with no education live like they have the answer to the meaning of life. How do they do it? All of my education showed me that everything on earth, both living and dead has been made in the smartest way. Only I and my understanding of life and death are stupid. How is it that millions of people who have not been to school as I have, who do not know how beautifully made plants, animals, and even rocks are how is it that these uneducated people find that their lives too are beautifully made and that they have meaning?
And then it hit me! A stupid person will always say that what he cannot understand is stupid. Most of the world lives their lives like life has meaning; but because I cannot understand them, I say that I am the smart one and that they are stupid. The world does not stop me from killing myself; so, if life is really so bad, why don't I do it? Why should I write about how bad life is when most of the world thinks that it is good? If it is really so bad, I should go away.
We who say that life is bad, but then live on to write books about it are the stupidest of all people. All of our learning does not give us what comes so easily for the people that we look down on. As far back as we can remember there have been people like myself saying that life has no meaning; but it has not stopped most of the people in the world from believing that it does.
All that I know of the world and of life today came to me from people who believed that life had meaning. They were the ones who cut down the trees, planted the corn and wheat, learned to get milk from cows and eggs from chickens, gave me language and food and drink, made rules for living together, started schools, and put me in my job as a writer. And here I was telling them that they were stupid and that I only I could see the truth that life is ugly and bad.
"There is something wrong here," I said to myself. "I have missed something." But it was a long time before I could find what it was that I had missed.
Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
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