My old friend Bill once said “I like to be pessimistic. That way if it doesn’t work out, I’m not let down and if it works out I’m twice as happy because I didn’t think it was going to happen in the first place”. Do I believe this is the way to approach life? No. But there’s a secret wisdom in this. Explaining this is gonna get real morbid at first but stay with me; it has a nice little positive twist at the end.
All relationships will end. (Yep, that’s the morbid part…at least some of it. It gets worse, but there’s cookies at the end though I promise.) Whether it be the relationship you have with your son, your boss, your wife, or your cat, they will all end. Since we’re starting in such dark waters, I’ll take one for the team and use myself as the example. Someday, even though I don’t want it to, my relationship with my wife will end. It may be through divorce. It may be through legal separation. It may be through my own or her own incarceration (This is how rumours are started right? Calm down, all’s well at home as far as I can tell). Even if we manage to avoid all of those nasty conclusions our relationship will at the very least end through my or her death. Every relationship has a start and end date. It has a beginning and and end. Someday, through a means I don’t yet know, it will be over.
Feeling depressed yet? Okay, good. Here’s where it gets a little lighter. If we consider what was just said about the ways a relationship can end (incarceration, divorce, and probably some other greusome ones that I didn’t mentioned) then, in many ways, death is the best outcome! If it’s going to end anyway, it may as well end with us both okay with each other right? If it’s going to inevitably end, death may be the best of a really bad situation(I thought he said it was going to get a little more upbeat?). If every relationship has a start and end date and the absolute optimum is that it ends in death, then that kinda means in some ways, it’s doomed from the start. This is not going to end well. Maybe Bill was right!
The samurai were a class of warriors in feudal Japan. The lived for honor even above their own life. A samurai in battle DID NOT CARE if he lived or died, he only cared that he fought courageously. His purpose in life was to fight bravely and bring honor to himself and to the feudal lord he served. He knew very well that his ultimate purpose was to die in battle and he accepted this with great fervor. Although, in this way he was doomed from the start he threw himself headfirst into battle, fully accepting the absolute fact that the fulfillment of his purpose lay in his head being separated from his shoulders. When in battle, he was actively participating in the ultimate fulfillment of his purpose and he was more than willing to die because in the act of grappling with his own death, his life had been fulfilled. He completely plunged himself into battle. This battle had a start and end date and he not only accepted this completely, he reveled in it, engaged it and through this he truly lived.
If we use this as a metaphor for relationships, this suggests that my task is to fully engage with and make the space in between my start and end dates as fulfilling as possible. My job is to fully accept and understand that my relationships will end and use this awareness to experience them more fully. In order to fully experience it, I must throw myself into it in the fullest sense possible even though I risk hurt and abandonment, the metaphorical equivalent of losing one’s head to the sword. I have to embrace it in such a manner that when that end comes and no matter what form the end takes I can say “yes, this was time well spent. It ended badly but I knew that it would from the beginning”. Our job then, say the philosopers and Brandon, is to live our relationships in such a manner that when the inevitable does come, we can gracefully bow out and say, “Yes, I have had my share. I am full. There is no more life left to live because I have lived it so very fully”.
Unrelated song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8_Jqy9dpv0
Unrelated Book recommendation: Man for Himself: An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics, by Erich Fromm