I don’t know how spiritual I am. I don’t know if I’m spiritual at all for that matter. I know that I find there is enough to do on this bank of the River Styx to worry too much about what might come later. But I worry sometimes that I’m not exactly nailing this whole life before death thing the way David Foster Wallace described it in his brilliant existential essay for the Wall Street Journal back in 2008.
I have to remind myself constantly of two thoroughly conflicting points:
1) I’m lucky and should feel grateful to have what is fundamentally a decent life full of opportunities. Though I hate the tube ride in the morning, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to ride it at all in a city where too many people don’t have anywhere to ride the tube to, on an average working day. That has to suck. I don’t experience that. I ought to feel lucky.
2) Feeling grateful is an act of recedivism. It’s an acceptance that dreaming big is somehow impolite or inappropriate and that you should accept that what you have is somehow better than you deserve. It’s recedivism in the same way that people who commit crimes accept that criminal activity is what life has in store for them even when they’re being let out of prison for the third time. And just as gratitude is a liberating force that helps you break the chains of entitlement, it’s a prison from which it is paradoxical to dream.
These are the life-before-death issues I grapple with. Me wanting more than I have is ungrateful when many people have so much less than I do. But it’s only because people like me want more than I have and are willing to mobilise others to help me get it, that the number of opportunities increase for everyone else.
It isn’t greed. It isn’t sinister. It’s living. If there is life-after-death, I guess I’ll get a scorecard then. I reckon it will be heavily weighted on my success in mastering life-before-death though.