Monday, December 19, 2016

`A Delicate, Complex Construct'

Years ago, as part of my annual readerly Christmas observance, along with the canonical texts – Shakespeare, Luke 2, Dickens, Oliver Edwards – I’ve adopted a thirteen-year-old Spectator column by Theodore Dalrymple, “Reasons to be cheerful.” The secular and sacred essence of this time of year, regardless of faith, is gladness, gratitude and a recognition that most of us, fortunately, never get what we truly deserve. It’s the time to give thanks for the sheer gratuitous beauty and bounty of the world, and the absence of any reason to be bored. As Dalrymple puts it: 

“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).”

Anyone who voluntarily chooses boredom has an oversized opinion of himself and is probably looking for trouble. I’ve learned of late that even pain, within reason, teaches us something – slow down, pay attention. On Sunday, I removed three old toilet seats (including one that required use of a coping saw to cut a rusted bolt) and installed three new ones. I’m the opposite of handy – inept is closer – so I take inordinate pleasure in my achievement (without injuries). Eva Brann says in her first book of aphorisms and aperçus, Open Secrets/Inward Prospects: Reflections on World and Soul (Paul Dry Books, 2004):

“A lovely day: the house in shape, all chores, repairs, arrangements completed. Sun floods the room, the flute all but plays itself, and there is good work just waiting to be done. I’m experiencing that contradiction in terms, domestic bliss, mundane ecstasy.”

And this, from the same chapter, “Felicity”:

“The good life is a delicate, complex construct hard to erect and easily damaged by evil design sometimes, yet far more often by blind accident. But recall that in logic `accident’ just means `property,’ and that often these unwelcome interventions can be appropriated to become the properties of a good life. Best example I know: You have to go to the hospital and there, made painless by bills, you get to read War and Peace for the third time, in deep long drafts. (The third time is the turning point, from labor to purest love, because you can by now pronounce all the names and needn’t worry what comes next—it’s a trivia-disencumbered suspense free reading, the best.)”

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