Sunday, July 10, 2016

Work Without Hope

Despite an empirical understanding of how I am in the economic elite of the world, I often wonder whether the forks in the road that I took are worth the mere pennies that I count and recount in the twilight of a mediocre career,

I was led down that path of thought when the old friend, who has moved to the other end of the neighborhood, yet again stated his understanding of the world of education and money: "If college won't help earn more money, then why go to college?" he flatly stated even as I sat across from him sipping the rich and wonderful coffee that he had brewed for me with a fancy machine that only money can buy.

"I am the perfect example of how more college does not lead to more money" I remarked.  I was reminded of the daughter's comment that I am the only one that she knows of who always decides in favor of less money, and she did not mean that as a compliment.

I recalled having read, some time, which was possible only because I always took the road leading to less money, the lines that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had written about his feelings of having been a failure.  Google helped me track it down: “And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,/ Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.”

If Coleridge, who is remembered well after his death nearly two centuries ago, thought that he was a failure, then what hope is there for lesser mortals like me?  Upon my passing, as John Updike wrote, the world will simply shrug away my death with "The wide response will be, I know, "I thought he died a while ago."

Yet, I and the rest plod along, hoping that the decisions of today will lead us to happier tomorrow--even if the happiness will be tightly circumscribed by dollars and cents.

Here is the sonnet by Coleridge:
Work without Hope
By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair--
The bees are stirring--birds are on the wing--
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

Yet, well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.


3 comments:

Ramesh said...

That's the mystery of life isn't it - the meaning of which you so assiduously pursue.

Nobody matters in the end. Even the great Rameses II - who but an Egyptologist knows of him now. Dollars and cents matter, but only a little. Fame matters, but only a little. Happiness matters more, but even that ??

If you subscribe to the philosophy that it does not matter what others remember or think, but that you could say you lived a good life, by your own standards, I think that may be enough.

Has the old friend who waves at you from across the porch moved to the other end of the neighbourhood ??

Anne in Salem said...

It is almost all choices. If one has the intelligence and genetic good fortune to be able to graduate with a degree with high earning potential, he must choose. What are the graduate's values? If one values (and defines success by) money, one will pursue such a path. If one values family time, travel, volunteerism, reading, and/or pondering, one will pursue a path that leads to such riches.

Being a success or failure is self-defined. I could make more money with a more corporate type job, but I'd have to commute to Portland and miss family time. No thanks. My choice. No one will eulogize my business savvy or bank accounts but, I hope, instead will remember my parenting, friends, compassion, faith, love of life. You have chosen non-financial riches and seem to have made a success of your choices. You have time for the things your value - to travel, read, ponder, drink coffee with friends. It's all choices.

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, the friend whom you met at his shop has moved a few homes down the street. Another friend(s) bought this home, which means that there are now two homes in my hood with friends with whom I break the proverbial bread ;)

Yes, it is about the choices that we make in order to live the life that we do, which means that success or failure should rise from that self definition. But, the humans that we are--whether it is a Coleridge or a sriram--we sometimes use external definitions and then wonder if we did ok, right?

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