When I was younger, I read a sci-fi novel that took place in the south seas islands. The characters ran across a group of locals who were participating in a cargo cult. They believed that if they built replicas, out of bamboo or whatnot, of airports…complete with fake planes and runways and buildings…that the gods would descend with real planes full of precious goods for them. To get your fix of coca-cola, built a fake coca-coal machine…the gods might notice and give you real coca-cola! I just loved that when I read it. Stupid primitives.
Of course, such thinking is pretty common these days. People say “Think successful to be successful!” or “Act rich to be rich!” and people suck it up by the boatload. Back working downtown, I see this constantly. People ape the fashions of brand-name personalities, hoping some of the magic powder will trickle down on them. They worship the rich hoping that it will make them rich. We’ve made gods out of lesser people, and do our best to appease them in the hopes that it will make our lives more full of stuff. Stupid primitives.
When I woke up this morning, it was to a lovely sight that I’ve been craving: Snow. I’ve lived in a lot of places in western Canada, and I know what a real winter is. I’ve been outside in -75 weather (-40 something plus windchill), and still had to go to school. Vancouver doesn’t get a lot of snow, but it can really deliver when it does. It’s just frozen rain, after all, and rain is our specialty. So I was hoping to wake up to a solid blanket.
But even at it’s best with overnight snowfall, Vancouver is better still at delivering it’s real sucker punch: rain. A heavy layer of wet snow, and then buckets of rain and high wind pouring down on top of it. There is no such thing as comfortable clothing in such weather, and working outdoors is a special kind of hell. And that hell is made all the worse by the soft, beautiful white promise of the morning. You become a child when you look out the window, and what happens to that child when you go outside is unspeakable. It’s like wrapping a lump of coal inside a big box, with the best paper and ribbons.
The difference between a good day and a bad day is expectation. Hope, in the Stoic doctrine, is a sin. It’s a lingering thought of some good to come in the future. It’s not a bad thing to think of something nice happening in the future…but it’s bad to hold on to that thought. We start to cling to our expectation of one outcome over others, and when we do that we start to live in a fantasy land. We imagine a life where that outcome is true. Not just in a brief, passing thought…but with full investment. At one extreme, we hope for that big lottery win so much that we start to expect it, and plan our finances around it. At the other extreme, we expect to be able to do five more minutes at a critical task at work without the phone ringing with an urgent message.
Anger and frustration become the real consequence of fantasies daunted by the random touches of reality. I get on the skytrain to work hoping to have a quiet read, and get angry because someone talks to me. I can’t control what someone else feels like or decides to do…but I can control my own thoughts. It’s the only real freedom in the world, and I have to earn it with constant practice. So maybe I don’t invest so much time expecting to be able to read. I bring my book, but I don’t live with that small hope. I keep my options open, I pay attention to what’s happening around me. I’m open the world, and aware of it. Maybe I’ll read. Maybe the weather or something will distract me enough that I forget to read and just enjoy the ride. Maybe I will feel compelled to ask someone about the odd book they are reading, and make a friend.
I grow my beard long to disdain popularity, to remove myself from the cargo-cult expectation that belonging or fitting in will assure me a place in the world. It’s snowing right now, but later it might be rain. Or an earthquake, or a heart-attack. Or maybe an offer for a dream job. Which one should I expect? Which one should I commit to preparing myself for? Which outcome do I invest in? Everyone tells me my future depends on the actions I take now, and there is no time! I must have success or I’m a failure!
But you know…fuck it. I’m a failure. I have a beard and I’m going to die some day, and it will always be sooner rather than later. I’ve always got my sword in hand, and I’m thinking about my opponent in front of me…never the beer afterwards. Even a friend can kill me if an accident happens. Are we going to dance or fight? I’m going to grin either way…because this moment is all there ever is, and all there ever will be.