Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass. […] We’re in the world, not against it. […] The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be.Le Guin, Ursula. (1971). The lathe of heaven. New York: Scribner’s.
This was an unexpectedly comforting quote. The pointed question embedded within it startled me: “What’s the function of a galaxy?”
If something is allowed to be that immense without being deliberately functional or useful, in that intentional, narrow sense of “usefulness” we’ve been taught to value, then I feel like there might be license for respite for the rest of us.
In his book “The Sabbath,” rabbi and civil rights activist Abraham Heschel observes that “there is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.” This, he says, is the point of taking a day off for rest and reflection and the company of loved ones: It’s when we manage to stop worrying about making a living that we start actually living.Grey, Sarah. (2014). Friday Night Meatballs: How to Change Your Life With Pasta. Retrieved 27 January 2020.
What strikes me about this quote is how “old hat” all of it is. Not to knock on Mr. Heschel, who articulated the sentiment well, but he’s not the only one who has said so, and that bothers me.
This is, apparently, a truth we’re all familiar with! We know it; we agree with it. Then why does the vast majority of the world still have to be shackled to the daily torture of making a living? Why haven’t more of us pooled our talents and poured our efforts into the challenge of allowing more people to “actually” live?
The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.Richard Price