Monday, June 08, 2015

"The sadness will last forever"

I have often wondered whether Vincent van Gogh would have preferred an ordinary life.  I mean, now we celebrate him and his artistic genius.  But, when he lived his life, given all the troubles that he went through, would he have traded in all his creative talents in order to, for instance, live as a journeyman carpenter?  Marry, have a few kids, live into his middle age, develop a paunch, ...  As he put the gun to his head, did van Gogh curse the gods for the tortured life that he lived?

Life is cruel--all we have is the one life that we each have.  Within this one life, a great deal is simply beyond our control.  The parents who create us, for starters.  Whether we are "accidents" that resulted from blind passion or from calculated decisions to have kids, the fact of the matter is that we did not have a choice in it.  We happened.  

And then, as Philip Larkin colorfully and poetically put it, "They fuck you up, your mum and dad."  Before you get all riled up that Larkin is bad-mouthing your wonderful parents, treat it more than beyond the simple words.  Who we are depends so much on to whom we were born, where we were born, who raised us, where we were sent to school, how we spent our free time, ... all those and more then pretty much put us in a straitjacket of sorts.

The other day, I went driving around with the friend.  On the way back, we stopped to fill gas at Drain.  A young man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, filled gas.  An even younger guy, perhaps in his final year in high school, was at the cash register.  About the same minute these two men were born, kids would have been born to wealthy families in New York and Boston and even here in Eugene.  Every one of those kids who did not choose those wealthy parents was immediately set on a life trajectory that would be very different, and chances are that they are not doing anything like pumping gas in Drain.   

Of course, one can extend the comparison to kids who share the same birthday, year, and minute in different parts of the world.  For no fault of theirs, the kids turn out to have very, very different lives.

Thus, there is this one life that we have, in which we had no role whatsoever in choosing the beginning.  It then is almost like we walk into a play, in which we are assigned to play heroes and heroines in our own very lives, but we take on those lead roles only well into the play.  And from them on, the play's success and failures depend on us--even though we did not choose to be in the play in the first place.  How unfair!  To make things worse, there is not even one rehearsal.  For that matter, there is no script either--it is all ad-lib.

As he was dying, Vincent van Gogh apparently whispered to his beloved brother, Theo, "the sadness will last forever."  Are his paintings worth all the sadness that van Gogh experienced?  Wouldn't you have wished for a less-troubled life for him even if he had never produced anything artistic, so much so that you and I would never have known about him, like how we don't know anything about the billions of other humans who have lived and died?


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