Of the countless essays, reviews, op-ed pieces, books and screeds written by Theodore Dalrymple (aka Anthony Daniels, and vice versa), the one I remember most fondly and reread most often (I keep a hard copy in the nightstand beside my bed) is “Reasons to Be Cheerful,” published in the Dec. 13, 2003, edition of The Spectator. I think of it again as the post-Christmas funk, that annual fog of discontent and irritability briefly suspended for the Yuletide season, settles on the world. Dalrymple writes:
“I’m never bored. I’m appalled, horrified, angered, but never bored. The world appears to me so infinite in its variety that many lifetimes could not exhaust its interest. So long as you can still be surprised, you have something to be thankful for (that is one of the reasons why the false knowingness of street credibility is so destructive of true happiness).”
The thought, hardly original though it seems that way in an age of codified ingratitude, is rooted in a simple truth: You and I and what we think we want are not terribly important. The world’s bounty – and certainly Christmas -- will never please those who dwell in a state of unsatisfied demand. Frank Wilson links to a piece by another English writer, Mark Vernon, who reminds us of the good fortune of existence, of being a being among other beings:
“At base, gratitude arises from existence – the how-wonderful-life-is-because-you-are kind of thanks. And the word `existence’ contains a clue. It's like the word `exit’. It means to be placed outside. So thanks is offered to the source of your existence. Gratitude is the recognition that life itself is the gift.”
Neither Dalrymple nor Vernon is a believer but they share a gift for recognizing gifts and responding appropriately. On Sunday I received an email from a reader in Australia who shares my admiration for the poetry of her countryman Les Murray: “It seems to combine an awareness of eternity and an affection for the smallest aspects of life…” She says what I’m fumbling to say: “an affection for the smallest aspects oif life."