Friday, July 29, 2011

Are You Righteous

The soldier
Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was, too. Do you imagine your suffering will be any less because you loved goodness and truth? 

- Japanese Soldier, The Thin Red Line

* * *

There is a hitch in our thinking, a flaw which betrays the innate puniness of our desire, our rush to pleasure and goodness and peace and a life lived in accordance with our dreaming: we presume that such a life will be without trial or suffering or injustice. That is why we pursue that life–to be beyond the reach of harm. In this, we are dogs chasing our tails.

Are you righteous?
Are you a serious character?
Are you going to live forever?
Why would you?

The value of a life, of any life–yours, the neighbor two doors down, the stranger you'll never meet, those in the meat grinder of Ciudad Juarez, the slums of Mumbai, and so on ad nauseum–is measured by it's finite nature and the demand, the expectation, that each life is utterly unique: a once in a lifetime occurrence. If the only value you place on your life is that which is totted up by how much ease, or pleasure, by how high you build the walls in a vain attempt to keep Life out, then you are quite fucked.

There is no wall that can't be breached. There isn't enough pleasure or leisure to satiate your desire because you'll always want a bit more and therein lies your doom. Just as Siddhartha's father could not protect his son from seeing, witnessing, participating in the sorrows and trials of the world, so, too, are you unable to flee from it. So, quit trying.

Viktor Frankl stated there were three ways to find meaning in one's life: love, creation and suffering. Each is completely unique in how it is expressed and each is a universal truth that anyone can understand or participate in. When the dead Japanese soldier in Malick's The Thin Red Line asks, Do you imagine your suffering will be any less because you loved goodness and truth?, it speaks directly to the fucked life, this woeful half-life you and I have been living. We desire love and goodness. We seek for ways to put a balm to our pain and we move through our lives either awake and hoping for something better, or asleep and hopeless. We do this because we cannot wrap our minds around the third option before us: it is love and goodness and suffering and loss and peace and trial all at the same time.

There are no divisions between darkness and light, between love and suffering. We place those dividing lines there so we have something of a contour map to follow, but it always keeps us from ever reaching our destination. You want to unfuck your life? Quit trying to separate the strands. Quit saying you'll only have goodness and truth, health and money, love and pleasure. Doing so keeps you on your back foot, always guarding against what you can't stop or have any control over. Your only control is over how you respond to Life in all of its richness and paucity, its delight and poison, its truth and lies.

If you read this as a negation of love, goodness and truth, then you're even more fucked than you know. It is all of it. At the same time. In all of its cyclical glory. You unfuck your life by not running from it. You unfuck your life by engaging it as it emerges. You unfuck your life by recognizing and accepting you have no control over external events, only your own actions, your own thoughts.

Consume it all or be stunned to silence when it dawns on you how you fucked it all up.



  1. Really enjoyed this writing. I also take it to mean that the true measure of being a good person, is being a good person up until and through the end (painful death). Private Witt in the Thin Red Line had to experience this, and him looking at this Japanese solider foreshadows it.

  2. Tristan, thank you taking the time to find this and comment on it. I appreciate it. I think you have nailed it exactly. It is all about follow-through, seeing it through. Death is an obvious one, but it is also lived out day-to-day. You don't have to wait for lights out to know if you're up to it.