Monday, April 21, 2014

Work And Love: A Kinda-Sorta Rumination

First, to all my Christian readers: Happy Easter! In these times of widespread suspicion and distrust, isn't it good to know that some promises really are kept (i.e., "He is risen, just as he said.")? Though as Pope Benedict XVI has told us, faith is inseparable from doubt, the Resurrection allows us to wait in hope, if not (damn it all) in Hope.

Second, to all my Eastern European readers: Happy Dyngus Day! Enjoy yourselves thoroughly. But do be careful with the pussy willow branches. Those things can smart.

And third, to all you constipated anti-capitalist types slavering over your annual opportunity to go all sanctimonious on the rest of us tomorrow, you can stuff that where the moon don't shine. I'll be celebrating "Earth Day" by enjoying the fruits of my labors, including a spacious single-family home, a Mercedes-Benz S550, a 65" HDTV and matching home theater system, a magnificent hot tub, my five-computer network, my Kindle HD Fire 8.9", and my B&N NOOK -- all of which you jackasses would deny me in the name of your rocks-and-moss-worshipping gospel of "environmentalism." I hope my more sensible fellow citizens will do the same, or close to it.

Ah, that feels better. Now, where was I?

An emotionally healthy person is one with the capacity for work and love. -- Origin unknown

If memory serves, I first encountered that statement in Joyce Rebeta-Burditt's marvelous novel Triplets. It immediately struck me as a breakthrough in the understanding of mental health: a cutting-through-the-underbrush insight that, if generally understood, would put the entire psychiatry industry out of business. The core perception is one of the existential basics. It provides a simple and satisfying answer to a question that our plague of pseudo-intellectuals asks as if it were the bane of human existence: "Why are we here?"

Why are we here? Why are we here? Why are we here?? Glory be to God, people! Where else could we be?

Living men live in Time. Time is inseparable from matter and energy. Without matter and energy, there would be no causes and effects to take place in time. Without time, the fundamental characteristics of matter and energy could not exist.

Time is the locus of dynamism. It makes change possible, whether for good or for ill. Thus, it's indispensable to learning and growth.

If we accept ourselves for what we are -- temporal creatures that must exercise reason and conscience to survive and flourish -- then we must accept where we are: the spatiotemporal universe into which we're born and from which we must ultimately depart.

Of course, the combination of "what we are" with "where we are" carries some implications, too.

Metaphysical absolutes give a lot of people emotional indigestion. The notions of "social construction of reality," the "Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis," and the like have penetrated a lot of minds to their detriment. The postulate that reality is independent of our perceptions and opinions trumps a lot of relativist and deconstructionist nonsense that, if accepted, could raise its promoters to total power.

The realities of human nature, our needs and desires, and the choices that flow from them are as absolute as any other metaphysical fact. Two above all confine us beyond all hope of escape:

  • We must work to live and flourish;
  • We need to love and be loved.

He who rejects either or both of those facts is insane in the most fundamental sense: he denies the reality in which he must live. He who exhorts you to doubt or deny them is emphatically not your friend.

That's not to say that work and love are unmixed blessings. Work is tiring, can be frustrating, and all too often goes unappreciated. We often come to appreciate its pleasures only when we renounce it -- or, as prison inmates sometimes discover, when we're deprived of it. As for love, it lacks guarantees, is frequently unrequited, and can cause the lover to sacrifice his preferences to the needs and desires of his beloved. The proposition that "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" is rather painful to swallow, though it's no less true for that.

Yet this is the nature of life under the veil of Time. We only escape it at our deaths, and few of us, regardless of our respective faiths, are eager to confront that eventuality.

The weariness and frustrations of work, and the sorrows and sacrifices that attend love, can blind us to our need for them. Think of all the stories you've heard about retirees who, deprived of any meaningful effort with which to occupy themselves, have wasted away in astonishingly short periods of time. Think of all the tales of love unappreciated and unreturned, and the horrific crimes that have been committed by persons abused by those they love. Yet few of us get all the way through our lives without personally experiencing some pain from our work and our lives. That, too, is part of our natures.

The Gospels tell us of a life lived for work that could return no benefit to the Worker, powered by an all-encompassing love that never faltered. What greater work could there possibly be than the redemption of the entire race of Man? What greater love could exist than a love that accepts unmerited death by torture to prove the sincerity of the Lover's message? And what simpler message could He possibly have brought us:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:37-40]

The Resurrection has more than one meaning. In Jesus's time as a man among men, He illustrated the heights to which work and love can raise us. These things were not necessary to Him -- God has no needs, after all -- yet He embraced them unhesitatingly, sacrificing all the satisfactions available to ordinary men to fulfill them and the New Covenant founded upon them.

It is not for us to do all that He did, but in this as in so many other things, we can learn from His example.

May God bless and keep you all.

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