Speaking of Trappists (yes, the horrible pun intended!) perhaps you have not heard the following joke:
A Trappist monk can only speak once a year. After the first year, the novice monk said: "The soup is too cold."Where was I? Ah, yes, the works of literature. The great works have gravitas. They teach me a lot. This post, is titled respice finem, and I have intentionally meandered through thus far, in order to make sure that you, too, get to know well what respice finem means: "look forward to the goal." Keep your eyes on the prize.
The end of the second year, he said: "The beds are too hard."
Finally, at the end of three years, the monk said: "I'm leaving."
The abbot, who had not spoken for seven years, said: "Thank God, I can't stand this loud chatter all the time!"
Reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich is not like reading the Economist. I have to stay focused, especially when the characters have names that I do not run into ever. Consider a few names from that book: Ivan Ilyich, Praskovya Fyodorovna, Pyotr Ivanovich. And then, there are Latin and French expressions every once in a while. Like respice finem. Or, il faut que jeunesse se passe. It was not unusual for the upper-class of Tsarist Russia to speak French too, and the educated of those days studied Latin, which is why expressions in those languages often appear in the Russian literature of those days.
Alien names and expressions do not stop me from keeping going because I have a goal: to make meaning out of my life. To solve my own existential puzzle. Of course, plenty of easier routes exist--I can choose to believe in any one of the narratives that are out there, in which hundreds of millions of my fellow humans believe in, mostly because they happened to be born into them. With rare exceptions, people are Hindus or Catholics or Muslims or whatever because they were born into and raised in Hindu or Catholic or Muslim families. Where we are born and to which family we are born into is a mere accident--unless of course the narrative conveniently, and in a self-fulling way, leads you to believe that every accident was meant to happen in a certain preordained manner.
It is not that I do not believe in accidents: it is after all various accidental mutations that led us to be the humans that we are. The existential puzzle is about all these accidents and how to make meaning out of them.
Yesterday, I was at a student's wedding--yes, an ultimate reward that no WalMart can deliver. It was a solemn and traditional wedding at a church. During the dinner after that, the friend and I were chatting with a woman about our age, and I asked her about the work that she does. She explained about how she got to doing that. "It takes a lot of work to find your own niche" she said. I agreed. How could I not when it has taken me a lot of work to be where I am.
There is a long way to go yet. Which is why respice finem is so important to me.