Disappearance of the Cat

I was asked to make sure the household cat remains in eyesight at all times today as she’s reached an age that cats do, whereupon they have a tendency to wonder off, finding a cosy spot to die without a fuss. She’s not been eating much all week, this snow white feline, sleeping for most of the day almost defeated by the heat. She sits in the shade in the garden, or rather, she flops to the stone and sits there immovable. If anyone tries to approach she attacks and hisses at the disturbance.

It’s made me quite reflective however on the nature of my own demise at the end of my own journey. Would I have a similar dignity or would there be people around to watch the rather normal event. It made me wonder too on the reaction of death and how death impacts the survivors more than the dying with the cat being a microcosm of the observation. While the cat is disinterested and ambivalent to its own passing, its almost a expectation to not have the same reaction. After all, our minds are far more evolved than the cats, surely it would make sense for us to mourn and grieve unlike them. Yet are they not more evolved than us in this philosophy? Seeing death as a part of life and the natural conclusion to their experience rather than a grand sadness. Yet we feel it all the same.

I was reading a post on Reddit the other day that said about control not rejecting emotions when the come to never allow them to overtake you or overwhelm you. It’s perhaps why the stoic Jedi philosophy leans into this and why it has become so misunderstood in both the real world ethos of stoicism and the fictional one of Star Wars. Of course there is sadness at the end of a life, as there is any sadness at the end of any chapter or any journey but we are not to be disabled by the emotion as it is our duty as living animate beings to continue to walk the path. As someone’s comes to an end, or they begin a new journey, what else is there to do but pause, reflect on the good and keep going?

The lessons we learn and the memories we keep from those who’s journey has ended are what keeps us smiling even after they go and when we feel that loss. It’s like the funny stories and the laughter that lightens the skies at a wake following a cremation. Of course, there will be tears of sadness but also joy, and neither should be a thing to oppress us in our own journey. Would the deceased want for us, that morbid existence too? A waking death, fixating on what isn’t rather that what is there in each continual moment of our lives. I know for a fact, my cat wouldn’t give a shit what I do, but that’s besides the point.

Of course our friend Marcus Aurelius had some things to say about death. Rather blunt if you ask me with little nuance about the greater human condition and expectations from others. Yet perhaps it was not expectations of others that he held in high regard but expectations in those he called stoics. As someone who calls myself this, I like to think I meet those standards but it’s always a work in progress. Ironically my own death does not concern me or worry me but the death of others, well, I’d prefer not to test my resolve yet I know ultimately whether I prefer or not that time will come as it does for all of us.

“Do not despise death: welcome it, rather, as one further part of nature’s will. Our very dissolution is just like all the other natural processes of life’s seasons being – like youth and old age, growth and maturity, development of teeth and beard and grey hair, insemination, pregnancy, and childbirth. In the educated attitude to death, then, there is nothing superficial or demanding or disdainful: simply awaiting it as one of the functions of nature. And just as you may no be waiting for the child your wife carries to come out of the womb, so you should look forward to the time when your soul will slip this bodily sheath.” – Meditations 9.3

One day I will be tested again as I have before, this time I wonder if I shall uphold my philosophy…

The cat returned, sat smugly on the kitchen tiles. I couldn’t help but smile.

Z3N0

Fame

I spoke about fame and it’s nature in another post but I keep finding Marcus Aurelius reflecting on the same topic over and over again, starting (or at least talking about it most notably first) in 4.3.3

“Look at the speed of universal oblivion, the gulf of immeasurable time both before and after, the vacuity of applause, the indiscriminate ficklesness of your apparent supporters, the tiny room in which all this is confined. The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!”

He speaks again on this next in 4.19:

“One who is all a flutter over his subsequent fame fails to imagine that all those who remember him will very soon be dead – and he too.”

Then again in 7.6:

“How many who once rose to fame are now consigned to oblivion: and how many who sang their fame are long disappeared.”

Is this indicative of that no one was listening to him at the time? Which seems a bit silly since he was the emperor of the largest empire in Western history. So then, is this instead indicative of the allure of fame and how everlasting the cult of celebrity is. From Love Island to the amphitheatre of ancient Athens, has the cult of celebrity persisted this long? A need to be known? A maddening desire for people to recognise you in the street, to be praised?

I don’t get it.

I know that sounds like I’m othering anyone who ever wanted to be famous with some brush of judgement. Once upon a time I used to be into theatre, extra work and being in front of the camera. I understand that pull, that weird sensation of wanting spotlight. Yet, I think even as a kid I knew I’d never be in control of who controlled that spotlight or when it would eventually flick off.

More so, however, I am too introverted to ever want that spotlight to linger a little too long.

Perhaps that’s why it amuses me so much that Marcus Aurelius speaks so much on the topic. Was the epidemic of fame-hunger as bad in Ancient Rome as it is now? Sure it’s a different, much larger sphere of influence but is this indicative of human nature of the cyclical nature of time?

Cynically, it’s human beings, addicted to the sound of their own name. In the cosmic sense an argument could be made that the universe is a circular novella written by a slightly more long in the tooth John Steinbeck. In the end, I suppose, even that will fade to dust and be reborn in the great heat death and rebirth of the universe.

I’m setting a challenge for myself: find at least a dozen names of Jacobean actors and know them as well as I do a dozen alive in 2021. How many Hugh Grants have there been? How many Mindy Kalings? Then I wonder, how many names have been lost. Gone from memory; gone from the record; gone from their own very bones. A sad, maddening thought.

No, not sad nor maddening:

“Mere things, brute facts, should not provoke your rage. They have no mind to care.”Meditations, 7.38

Z3N0

Destination Unknown

I was thinking about destiny today and the matter of free will versus predestination. It’s funny how stubbing my toe can cause some grand introspection. Perhaps it was fated? Clotho herself weaved stubbing my pinky against the bathroom door into the story of the universe to lead me to some revelation.

Fuck knows but it makes for good content.

Can we as human beings defy fate or would it be against the primary directive of the Universe whatever that maybe?

I think the answer is both complex and very simple: yes and no. While life entirely seems cyclical like a hardwired program, free will exists on the individual level. We can choose to get with the program or not knowing full well that it will run with or without us. You can choose to vote in an election or not, someone will still win. You can choose to accept a marriage proposal or not, would God blink at one less union in the kingdom? Then that raises the question, was it fated, weaved by ancient Clotho, to never be married in the first place? Each life a reflection of the grand program around it. I’ll reuse a quote from our favourite Classical emperor:

“You will see everything the same. People marrying, having children, falling ill, dying fighting, feasting, trading, farming, flattering, pushing, suspecting, plotting, praying for death of others, grumbling at their lot, falling in love, storing up wealth, longing for consulships and kingships. And now that life of theirs is gone, vanished. Pass on again to the time of Trajan. Again, everything the same. That life too is dead.”Meditations 4.32.

While the fate of all of us is ultimately returning to the earth from which we came, is what occurs in between really that important? Quite demoralising in that sense. So let’s think on a wider scale:

Worker in a factory, feels lost and on autopilot everyday making toys. Without them on that particular day, a certain toy would not be packaged and sorted into a loading truck…

A truck driver is stuck in traffic, transporting these toys. The delay causes another complication: the shipment is fulfilled and so the driver is rerouted by their boss to another store…

The store the driver delivers to is closed due to an incident in the shop floor so it is deserted and the toy stock is resupplied. The store is closed until the next morning preventing customers from buying the toy at that moment…

As soon as the store opens, a mother who is running late, goes in and sees the toy and picks it up for her son, not really looking at it but thinks he needs a treat after catching COVID (or something)…

She gifts the toy to her son, the toy happens to be the exact one he wants, it’s his new favourite and he keeps it for years, sharing it with his own son decades later…

Another:

I sleep funny last night so when my alarm wakes me up I feel groggy and I need a coffee…

I get to work and have a coffee and then I have another after a rather slow morning that does it’s best to send me to sleep…

Three coffees later I have a Lucozade with my meal deal and feel quite buzzed…

I get home and seem quite peppy and zip around the house and in my haste I stub my pinky on the bathroom door…

Here were are now.

Are those stories examples of the butterfly effect in action or destiny in motion? Why not both?

In the end, the worker in the factory while feeling like they would never make an impact on the world around them is the most vital part of the story. Even the minor inconveniences along the way shape the river that we all flow down. It’s not as morbid as it first appears. It’s actually rather comforting to think in these terms. On these terms, we realise that all humans, all things, know each other. There’s close to 8 billion of us on Earth, the web Clotho weaves must intersect so many times that it stops resembling a web at all. It’s a tapestry: the very fabric of time and space that our stories form the fibres of for an audience of our Maker. Or perhaps, the tapestry itself – thriving, breathing, ever growing – is our Maker. No bearded man in a toga; an intelligent magic carpet we all ride atop of.

I can’t think of what a better comparison would be: Towelie from South Park or Magic Carpet from Aladdin.

In any case, I’m digging being part of it and even though I’ll never see its destination, the journey’s just as good. Whatever the truth really is, I’m grateful for a bad night’s sleep and a sore toe.

Z3N0

Disagreeing with an Emperor

“So we must have a sense of urgency, no only for the ever closer approach of death, but also because our comprehension of the world and our ability to pay proper attention will face before we do”Meditations 3.1

I am disagreeing with Marcus Aurelius here. If all things are timed as they should be by the workings of Providence and all things happen for a reason, so do our lives. Rushing or panicking to complete things that may or may not need be done out of some heightened awareness of mortality doe not make the thing anymore important. A rushed job is not worth doing. I do agree with the following statement from 2.11:

“You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all you do or say or think.”

Yet, if I do have this in mind, where is the need for urgency? If I’ve said all I needed to say, thought what I’ve needed to think and done what I’ve had to do, what’s the rush to do anything else? In bed on a Saturday morning, I’ve said all I needed to say (often nothing), done what I’ve needed to do (again often nothing), and thought what I needed to think (again nothing if I’m feeling particularly meditative). While Descartes may not be the model stoic, not being stoic at all, he did his best work in bed. So did Casanova but that’s another story. I’m not making excuses for procrastination, I’m just not seeing the point of a momento mori if I truly, amor fati.

I prefer another great bearded man’s words when it comes to such things:

“A wizard is never late. Nor is he early; he arrives precisely when he means to.” – Gandalf.

Maybe I’m a loathsome sloth but I see no reason to rush anything nor do I feel a sense of great urgency with my own life. Clocks tell me time passes and I live by them because I must as a part of society. I don’t begrudge this, it is what it is but if I’m going to be honest, I’d happily keep track of time by the increase of wrinkles on my forehead. If I am to go at any moment, what’s the use of being morbid about it and rushing from one objective to the next? Despite Gandalf being an immortal wizard being, Marcus Aurelius also said in 2.14:

“The longest lives and shortest lives are brought to the same state.”

The longest lived and earliest to die suffer the same loss.”

If I am to live in accordance with Nature, I am to trust it’s course. Perhaps it’s a privileged position to take. I live in a country with universal healthcare (for now) and have no conditions of concern. I have a relatively stable home life and my responsibilities extend to keeping my room clean and paying a rather measly sum for board each month. Yet still in this rather typical mediocrity of lower-middle class Britain, I am aware of my own mortality.

So I disagree with the belief of Marcus Aurelius and perhaps many a stoic. Watching the Doomsday Clock of my own life tick does not push me to action faster than my own motivation, inspiration, direction. Call me a hippy waste of space, a lay about, a lost lamb of the Summer of 69 born nearly 3 decades late. That’s your opinion yet I still find myself doing what I need to do, saying what I need to say and thinking what I need to think with a sense of ease, not urgency nor panic. I may be taking the Emperor too literally, I may be misinterpreting what he’s saying – of course, I’m open to that possibility.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking a leisurely stroll to the finish line, smelling the roses and coffee and all that shit. Why run? I’ve never been one for running. For one, I don’t have the right shoes.

Z3N0