(Part two of a four part series)
“A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.”
“A Question” by Robert Frost, 1942.
With four short lines Frost asked one of history’s most unsettling philosophical questions.
Does our life provide sufficient joy to compensate for all the suffering we do?
Friedrich Nietzsche asked the same question when he pondered why philosophers have not even bothered to describe how to live each day.
Mankind is still grappling with this question. In 1989 cult sci-fi comedy classic “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” Keanu Reeves message was to “Be excellent to each other. And……. party on, dudes!”
In “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” Mathew Broderick reminded us that “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”
Wisdom out of the mouths of Hollywood comedy writers. Hard to improve on those two quotes but what the heck, let’s give it a try.
How do you live each week? Well we have been told “Weekends are made for Michelob” but is that it?
Alexis de Tocqueville once said Americans are driven, practical and always busy. Many use weekends to make more money and remain on the treadmill.
In the days of Blue Laws all commercial activity was banned on Sundays.
This quaint law is a thing of the past though Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Austria still enforce the law making the idea of moving to one of those countries a tempting idea.
To discover how your typical Willistonian spends weekends I strolled down Hillside Avenue and asked the people I met
My first stop was to our tailor Luigi Suppa who told me he was cooking with some friends on this Saturday night and then was kind enough to invite me to join them.
Knight, the graphic designer who works in Minuteman Press told me he was going to a weekend long music concert at the Jones Beach amphitheater.
The Sunday headliner was going to be Justin Bieber. Twenty somethings still know how to have fun.
I asked Aiden at Framing Mantis how he spends weekends and he said he mostly spent time with his nephew and mom taking day trips to places like the High Bridge in the Bronx and Highline on Manhattan Westside.
He remarked that lots of people gather on the Highline at sunset for the best view in town. Good idea.
Harry of Harry’s Deli says he works every day and weekend and that “every day is a good day.”
Harry is Greek through and through and reminds me of the fun loving Zorba the Greek but with a huge work ethic.
My last stop was at Pyramid Jeweler to have Allan Walsh replace my watch band. I chatted with Allan for a while and said as American’s we are more or less programmed to work incessantly and that our Sunday’s off are crucial.
Sundays allow us to detach from the stress and the need to focus so intensely. He said it would be ideal to work 4 days and be off three but very few can do this. “Time with family and friends and with relaxation is what quality of life is all about but it’s not very easy to establish this kind.”
Of course he is right about this. The greatest strength and achievement of capitalism is in the production of objects of great beauty and near perfection.
That $30,000 crocodile handbag by Gucci, that new Mercedes for $89,000, those gorgeous Peal and Company strap loafers that go for $710.
We pay large money to possess these objects of beauty by working, working, working.
The older one gets the more one develops a taste for the finer things in life, thus the tendency to remain on that treadmill to keep up with the credit card payments.
If Friedrich Nietzsche was alive today he would be having trouble articulating how to live each week and each weekend. And still the question that Robert Frost posed about whether all these ‘soul-and-body scars’ are really worth the effort remains unanswered.
We all must work our five or six days and we all suffer the burden of having to earn our daily bread. In addition we all get sick and have either minor or major pain to cope with. So how then does the solace and joy accrue?
Perhaps the key is to appreciate that you do not need to focus so intensely on our weekends. We all have a chance to place our burdens to the side on weekends. On weekends you can breathe deeply, exhale, get up late, do nothing, take a stroll, have a donut with an extra morning cup of joe, go have brunch with friends.
Weekends can give you something that has more euphoria than a Michelob and is actually free. Weekends give you time which is after all the most precious of all things.
I wonder if Robert Frost would say that taking a deep breath, exhaling and feeling free for two days is compensation enough.