In a perfectly manicured estate beside the Thames in Central London, he came to the conclusion that life, as such, did not matter so very much.
Wrapped in layers of wool, shod in the thickest hiking boots and wearing a large felt hat with a wide brim, he made a curious spectacle. Warmed by the sun, the air was nonetheless winter cold, but drifting in an internal world, consensus reality passed him by.
In some distant land, yet another brutal dictator had unleashed Armageddon on an innocent neighbor. In England, the ruling political party had been accused of a cash for access scandal. He was dimly aware of the whine of police sirens somewhere on the other side of the river. Overhead a ceaseless stream of jets spread poisonous fumes on their way to land at a grim airport, sprawling somewhere in the industrial wasteland west of the city. Helicopters chopped through the air on their way to Battersea heliport, carrying the self important and impatient, the mindless automatons who believed life was a race to collect more, do more, be more.
The newspapers of the day carried frenzied tales of murder and intrigue. Pundits opined on impending disaster in financial markets, the ecosphere, and politics.
Business, in other words, as usual.
“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Thus wrote some ancient scribe in the Palestinian desert but few seem to have the time or inclination to heed such nonsense in a world full of getting and doing. Few can comprehend that all is chance.
As the same fellow noted, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
The historian might appreciate this truth, but few others will as they grasp and strive and struggle through the same endless circles of life.
Let it pass he thought. Let it go, on and around and through, up and down and beyond. Let the people do what they have ever done, let them strut their stuff.
Wrapped in his bubble in a safe corner of the world, perhaps he could afford such nonchalance. And yet he was coming to suspect that he would feel much the same way wherever he sat. In less comfort perhaps, shorter maybe of the necessities of life. In greater danger from the insanity which raged throughout much of the planet.
Maybe. And yet he would not be seen manning the barricades. Rioting held little appeal nor did the thought of railing against cruelty and injustice on the soapbox or in the press.
He looked at reality and decided that it was not. Not real that is. Not important, meaningful or worth the bother.
He did not feel unmoved by the plight of those great masses so very much less fortunate than himself. Quite to the contrary.
And yet he had come to believe that, in a sense, what he saw happening around him was a play of some sort. A charade perhaps, rather than a calamity. People suffered and died. Physical “reality” was no less cruel than the human flotsam it had spawned. For every brutal tyrant and torturer was matched by a famine, an earthquake or, occasionally a meteor strike. In which case it was probably game over. No winners, no losers at the end of the day. Just a continuum.
Did his realisation lower his spirits? Did he cower under the bench rather than sit on top of it. Was he depressed, let down, disappointed.
None of these things. No. He had reached a stage when his only ambition was to quietly observe the chaos and to withdraw. Into a different reality which seemed to exist within his own mind. Or elsewhere – perhaps his mind was showing him a different place, another plane where life on earth seemed increasingly irrelevant.
Fight the tyrant by all means he thought, but you do so in vain. Defeat one brute and another will soon enough spring up to take his place. House the poor and feed them. An admirable goal he felt and yet unachievable in a world which was so very far from an age of post scarcity.
“Chance happeneth to them all”, he said to himself. There is nothing new under the sun.
And so he chose to see a different reality and hoped that it was true. Sometimes he had glimpses of such a place, such a state and he longed to dwell there. And sometimes, dwell there he did. When the dark clouds receded for a while and a sense of unity and omniscience replaced doubt.
But true or false, he needed to make a choice as Pascal had once done. Increasingly he felt he had made such a choice and with that, the reality he believed he saw was a very different one.
Peace, he knew, could only come from making that choice and acting upon it.