On the Antagonism between Impulses


There are two impulses, frequently at odds, whose antagonisms often leave me brooding and melancholy.

The first is the impulse to create something unique and lasting: a legacy, a monument, a testament to a life well- and unforgettably-lived. The fulfillment of this impulse requires commitment, dedication, excellence and mastery. It implies a life lived in linear time: a time of straightforward accumulation of learning, experience and growth; a time where the experience of the present is suspended in favor of an anticipation of the future.

The second is the impulse to honor the transience of life itself: the desire to follow through on the recognition that no legacies last and that no monuments endure; that the urge to assure our immortality is illusory at best and fraudulent (of our mortality itself) at worst. The fulfillment of this impulse requires awareness, mindfulness, compassion and gentleness. It implies a life lived in circular time: a time of perpetual returns, of greeting all-too familiar markers, of unraveling the accretions that we appropriately designate “baggage;” a time that will be our closest (perhaps our only) intimation of eternity.

When these impulses collide (and they frequently do), I get the look on my face that normally elicits the following comment from my friends:You’re thinking too much.

It’sa comment as unhelpful as it is accurate. I think endlessly about these things because I want answers, certainties and guarantees. Just because I know none exist doesn’t alleviate the urge. (It never will.)

So when the endless internal debates result in their inevitable draws, I do the one thing remaining that seems to offer any solace: I write. I write, not so much to ask my readers for an answer, but to simply hear that they share the question.

Strangely enough, it almost always works.

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