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August 31, 2014

The Other #YOLO

YOLO. You Only Live Once.

This acronym has become increasingly popular in symbolyzing a perspective that is focused on the pursuit of pleasure (the senses) as well as achieving one's personal goals and ambitions. Parallels can be drawn with the phrase carpe diem (''seize the day'') and the maxim ''eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.''

Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (1648) is emblematic of carpe diem as a literary genre:

''Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May''
- John William Waterhouse (1909)
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry;
For, having lost but once your prime,
                       You may forever tarry.




Thomas Jordan's Coronemus nos Rosis antequam marcescant (1637) gives a more comprehensive illustration of carpe diem as idealized during this time period:

Jacob Jordaens, The King Drinks
Let us drink and be merry, dance, joke, and rejoice,
With claret and sherry, theorbo and voice!
The changeable world to our joy is unjust,
      All treasure’s uncertain,
      Then down with your dust!
In frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence,
For we shall be nothing a hundred years hence.

We’ll sport and be free with Moll, Betty, and Dolly,
Have oysters and lobsters to cure melancholy:
Fish-dinners will make a lass spring like a flea,
      Dame Venus, love’s lady,
      Was born of the sea;
With her and with Bacchus we’ll tickle the sense,
For we shall be past it a hundred years hence.

Your most beautiful bride who with garlands is crown’d
And kills with each glance as she treads on the ground,
Whose lightness and brightness doth shine in such splendour
      That none but the stars
      Are thought fit to attend her,
Though now she be pleasant and sweet to the sense,
Will be damnable mouldy a hundred years hence.

Then why should we turmoil in cares and in fears,
Turn all our tranquill’ty to sighs and to tears?
Let’s eat, drink, and play till the worms do corrupt us,
      ’Tis certain, Post mortem
      Nulla voluptas.
For health, wealth and beauty, wit, learning and sense,
Must all come to nothing a hundred years hence.

Life's brevity and fleetingnness found in both poems is understood here as promoting a live-in-the-moment mentality the ultimate aim being to delight one's senses (food, drink, sexuality) in a self-centered way. This lifestyle involves squandering one's money (''in frolics dispose your pounds, shillings, and pence'') without reflecting on the meaning of life (''then why should we turmoil in cares and in fears'').

Three Ages of Man (16th century) - Titian

PURPOSEFUL YOLO

It should be noted that this discussion focuses on 'YOLO' taken to the extreme--it is not necessarily wrong to pursue ambitions and, to some extent, leisure. Knowing that life is short can be a good incentive to seize unique opportunities and step out of one's comfort zone.

YOLO has it right. You only live once. However, as William Penn said: ''Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.'' Our time on earth is short. How, then, will we use the time that is entrusted to us?

The Book of Psalm says, ''Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.'' Similarly, Because our days are numbered, Paul urges us to ''make the most of every opportunity'' and seek wisdom. James writes that what pleases God is ''to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.''

Our purpose is thus twofold: to seek God's wisdom and goodness as well as caring for the less fortunate. Loving people--both strangers and those around us--requires selflessness and self-sacrifice. It requires us to place others' well-being above our own and invest time and energy in them.

Our knowledge that life on earth is finite should prompt us to seek truth and goodness beyond self-fulfillment, self-gratification and self-actualization.

''Learn to do right; seek justice.''

This life is the only chance we have do good, serve the truth, and make a difference in this world. Let us invest and use it wisely.

''Wreck of Time'' - Mihai Criste

March 10, 2014

Travel series: ''Il giorno é arrivato''


The man at the train station couldn't speak English, but I decided to take the next train anyway. I fell asleep on the train, I awoke, and now here I am. In Italy, for the first time.

In the frenzy and chaos of finishing exams and flying to Europe shortly after, I brought with me much adrenaline and two massive dark circles under my eyes. And now, for the first time in many months, I just am. I have no plane or train to take, no activities to do, no places to visit. 

The sun is shining bright, a chilly wind is blowing, and as I walk on the streets of this millenia-old italian city, I feel like an impostor. Everyone around me is busy: busy talking on the phone, busy going back to work, busy going home. I catch a glimpse of their routine, somewhere between home and the office, work and play.

Meanwhile, I am here passive, contemplative, useless. It feels out of place to not be working, to not have something concrete to do. Back where I come from, everything is planned, organised, work-oriented. But here I am.



I don't want to see any monuments. I don't want to visit. I just want to be, here, and now. 

I walk around. Everything is so beautiful, so full of meaning, a feast for the senses. Every sensation is amplified, every thought is loftier. How foreign it is to be a spectator, to pay attention, to notice, to appreciate. 

Parks everywhere. I pick the one that has the prettiest name, with the most vowels. 
My friend and I lie down on the grass, in full sunbeam. I left my bag about a meter away. I should probably bring it nearer, as my passport is in it and you never know. But the heat and weight of the sun are so numbing that I am paralyzed. 


I wake up and look at my watch. We have been napping for an hour and a half. My heart skips a beat, then I sigh in relief: my bag is still there. Always selfish, the sun has once more taken more from me than it has given: I feel heavy and with little energy. It is an oppressive, yet liberating feeling.

The shade is coming our way. The sun will soon be going down. It is good to be idle, for once. It is good to be an impostor of the ordinary. The day has come. 


February 18, 2014

Les grandes espérances

One of the young doffers working in Pell City Cotton Mill, Alabama, 1910

C'est là le titre traduit d'un roman de Charles Dickens, en anglais Great Expectations. C'est un titre qui m'a toujours fascinée, bien que je n'aie jamais ouvert le livre. Il communique et évoque un sentiment puissant, celui de grands idéaux, de grands espoirs. Ainsi, l'on s'imagine une jeune âme qui s'ouvre au monde et à la vie, et nourrit les pensées les plus nobles et innocentes (dans le bon sens du terme) quant au futur et ce qu'il réserve, ce qu'il promet.

Il vient un temps où beaucoup de ces grandes espérances sont déçues. Je pense qu'à cet égard, le terme anglais expectation, mieux traduit par «attente» en français, exprime bien cette désillusion, ce désenchantement. À une époque plus naïve, plus délicate, nous avons développé des anticipations quant au futur. Alors que nous vieillissons, nous sommes forcés d'en venir au constat que le monde n'est pas tel qu'il devrait être. Nous rêvons d'une société qui ne sera jamais, d'une paix utopique, d'amour inatteignable.

Le Sisyphe de Titien, 1548
Plus que tout, nous souhaitons la self-actualization, l'accomplissement de soi, qui dans la pyramide des besoins de Maslow, correspond à cet état suprême d'épanouissement de développement de notre potentiel personnel. Il semble parfois que plus nous tentons d'avancer vers cet objectif, plus il s'éloigne de nous, tel un mirage, tel Sisyphe roulant éternellement son rocher le long de la colline sans jamais en atteindre le sommet.

Souvent quand je pense au monde qui tourne, au temps qui s'écoule et à la vie qui passe, je crois que nous courons parfois le risque d'investir toute notre énergie et tous nos efforts dans la poursuite du soleil couchant, sans jamais le pouvoir toucher.

Je ne dis pas qu'il faut renoncer à nos principes et à nos idéaux. Bien au contraire, je crois fermement qu'il faut vivre de façon intègre et conforme à ses propres valeurs et croyances.

Ce que je remets en doute, c'est combien nous nous attachons parfois à certains buts que nous nous fixons, qui une fois atteints, ne satisfont pas toujours. On rêve de voir l'Europe, puis après y être allé, on se désole de ne pas avoir vu le monde. On est obsédé à l'idée d'obtenir un diplôme universitaire, puis une fois obtenu, on se trouve bien malheureux de ne pas avoir un diplôme de deuxième cycle.

Il m'en faut toujours plus, c'est chronique. Peut-être en est-ce de même pour vous.

Et c'est pour cette raison que j'ai mis la photo du petit garçon travaillant dans une usine de coton, dans les années 1910. Quelles étaient ses grandes espérances à lui? Quelle aurait été sa vie parfaite? Avait-il même le temps d'y songer?

Je ne condamne personne. Il est légitime d'avoir des rêves et des aspirations, l'humain est ainsi fait, et c'est ce qui nous pousse à donner le meilleur de nous-même, à aller là où personne n'est allé auparavant.

Mais le bonheur et la réalisation de soi ne consiste peut-être pas à atteindre une destination qui s'éloigne à mesure que nous avançons.

Il faut de temps en temps jeter un regard en arrière, et être reconnaissant du chemin parcouru.
Là où nous sommes, nombreux sont ceux qui auraient voulu y être dans l'histoire de l'humanité.

Les grandes espérances de ce petit garçon, celles qui semblaient inatteignables, c'est peut-être nous qui les vivons aujourd'hui. N'est-ce pas en soi avoir réalisé beaucoup de rêves, beaucoup d'espoirs?



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