18 Dec 2019

The examined life

The examined life – by P.K. Odendaal – December 2019

Oh, please, I wrote my matric exams many years ago and I still shudder when I think of how difficult it was and how I stressed. Fortunately I passed it and its past. More exams for me ever …  no thank you. I have had enough; what with all those sleepless nights.

I understand that fully ... but

Are we on earth to live a life of no responsibility, no commitment, no consequences for our actions, no terms and conditions, no please explains? I know for sure that is not the case. The case is that we are here to prepare ourselves for Higher Office, be that what and where it may. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Cruising through life will not bring you peace, excitement, self realization, self development and a sense of who and what you are and what your destiny in such a powerfully free and lofty mission is – the essence of life itself in an environment where the stars are not even the limit.

If I look around me there are millions of people who strive valiantly to develop themselves, to mitigate the suffering of the weak, the hungry, the impaired and the poor. There are millions striving to make planet earth a better place for humans to live in.

I am reminded of these wise words of Theodore Roosevelt just before WWI:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Why would they do that?

Let’s drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, seems to be a much more reachable, enjoyable and pleasant lifestyle. My atheist friends have this attitude, which in its most existential form says (from the Sunset Limited by C. McCarthy) : It's that the world is basically a forced labour camp for which the workers - perfectly innocent - are led forth by lottery, a fee each day, to be executed. .. The efforts that people undertake to improve the world invariable make it worse. ... You give up the world line by line. Stoically. And then one day you realize that your courage is farcical.

Yes, we have these two choices before us, but I am choosing life. Life abundantly and challenges almost unreachable. Trying to suffer through and pass the one test or exam after the other. Yes, life is an exam. A preparation for eternity. How will we know how well or badly we fare if it were not for the exams.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living and I have seldom heard a better idea of living my life and I recommend it for all.

If we fail, as we so often do, we can pick up the pieces and start again. We can try again and we can try harder and better. There must be a challenge or I would die of boredom.

And think of the exhilaration when we have dreamed that impossible dream and climbed that impossible mountain or forded that impossible stream. Even if there was no reward, I would still dream those impossible dreams and face those impossible challenges.

However, there is a much more profound and compelling reason for trying that, and that we can read in a bible story:
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and dug in the earth, and hid his lord's money. 

After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckon with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou delivered unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou delivered unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

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