It was so heavy-handed and so stupid, hitting the nail on the head so hard that it rang like a bell. Nothing stops. – Helena Fitzgerald on Substack
None of it. The good times, nor the bad. There is no “until this is over”, or “when I’m done this.” There is no “when I get less busy” or “after this term.” Nothing stops.
There is one Annie Dillard quote I hold central to my ‘consciousness cannon’,
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing. What can you do to make your hours, days, and life meaningful? Certainly not toiling away for the next few years on things that pain you and question your sanity. Pain is not the unit of effort that matters1. Time is.
Take the time to find yourself. Take the time to smell the proverbial flowers. Take a break to sharpen your saw for it will not delay you from cutting more wood.
There is no permanence to this universe. If we could stop time, we would. Bill Waterson once said that ‘If people could put rainbows in zoos, they’d do it’. Everything we build is a sand castle waiting to be washed away at high tide.
We build and craft the most beautiful sandcastles we can, knowing they will be washed away. We get others to build with us, suspending the knowledge that this will all eventually disappear.
I think that’s what gives life its beauty.
What gives life meaning is its scarcity. If one could live forever and do everything they could ever want, why wouldn’t they choose it2? We value the time of others because we know that is finite. Life has meaning because it is finite.
Love then, is knowingly choosing the losing side. What is love but the constant battle against entropy that drives everything apart and strips it of its salience? Loving one another is always the process of deluding ourselves into believing in a better world. What greater project is there, in an unbearable time, in a perpetual future, where nothing stops? In a society that never stops, isn’t loving the ultimate form of protest? To be able to be whole in your existence, to share your time on this little piece of rock drifting through space together?
Companionship is valuable because it affords the opportunity to feel ‘seen’ by another. We can only, according to Nathaniel Braden, view ourselves conceptually but we need others to view ourselves perceptually. Other consciousnesses function like a mirror – being seen in this way is recognition of personhood. The feeling of being seen is psychological visibility. Love then, is witness through it all.
Witness is deep attention3. To witness is not to tether or to pop their balloon, but to hold their strings carefully. adrienne maree brown described relationships like a spiderweb—diaphanous yet strong, thick yet porous. “A web allows things to fall through, like a sieve,” she said. “Some things are not meant to be caught.” David Whyte believed that the ultimate touchstone of a relationship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self.
“The ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone, and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them, and to have believed in them, and sometimes, just to have accompanied them, for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone” – David Whyte
Nothing stops isn’t a statement about how nothing matters. Rather, it is a call to spent time on what does matter. As Patti Smith said when discussing William Blake and her creative influences, “Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often.”4
In the lifespan of the universe, how lucky are we to share our lives together?
I’ve seen a lot of people take interest in this article by Mark Manson which argues that “what pain you want in your life” is a much more defining question than what we want in life. I agree that happiness requires struggle. But struggle for yourself and what you want. Struggle because it is meaning-laden, not because society demands it and optimizes for the appearance of sufferance. I like this anecdote from alkjash (more thoughts here): “If it hurts, you’re probably doing it wrong… If your wrists ache on the bench press, you’re probably using bad form and/or too much weight. If your feet ache from running, you might need sneakers with better arch support. If you’re consistently sore for days after exercising, you should learn to stretch properly and check your nutrition.” ↩︎