Humanity exists in the space between the infinitely large and the infinitely small.
These are not my words. They are paraphrased from Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” in which he paraphrases those words being said by some philosopher. I must attribute these ideas to these thinkers other than myself.
Regardless, the wisdom is worth repeating. Kundera speaks of Beethoven’s late-life obsession with the form of theme-and-variations, in which the composer takes a single often simple theme and through it extracts melodies and harmonies that begin to sound completely unfamiliar and different from the original theme. However each variation on the theme is merely an exploration into the infinitely small world of that theme. Deep within the theme, a good composer can find new microscopic worlds to explore, and deep within those worlds are new worlds. All too often we as artists concern ourselves with the infinitely large – symphonies, operas, and multi-movement works that narrate epic tales or revolve around the universe or the end of times. Let them be our telescope through which we dream big.
My uncle was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor a couple months ago and since then life hasn’t been the same for him or his family. One day he was running marathons, beating young hotshot whippersnappers at their own game of fitness; the next he was relearning how to walk. Today, as every day, we hope for a recovery. Tomorrow, who knows what’ll happen?
It’s a pretty negative experience for everyone involved, and however negative it is for me, it’s much more so for a lot of people like my cousins, my dad, and my aunt. But if there’s anything at all positive we can take from this, it’s this: we don’t know what fortune or misfortune tomorrow has in store for us.
However cliché it might sound, we need to make the most of our lives now. No, we can’t afford to live every day like it’s our last. But maybe we should start living every half-decade like it’s our last. Just a couple days ago, it was summer. Yesterday, it was autumn. Tomorrow it will be spring. How many more times will you get to see the seasons change? How many more first snows and first rains will you have the pleasure of feeling? How many more times will you see the leaves turn red or blossoms crawl out of dormant trees? How many times have you picked the first ripe orange off a tree and ate it?
How many first rains have you actually bothered to feel? How many oranges have you actually bothered to pick and eat?
Feeling a rain and eating an orange are small things, yes. But here we are, in humanity, living between the infinitely large and the infinitely small – between the stars and the atoms. We know the boundaries of our macro-infinity; most of us make an effort to push those boundaries. We travel across the world and see nations and mountains our predecessors couldn’t even dream about. We cherish being explorers in our infinitely large world.
Right before us is a world of an equally great infinity to which we are often strangers: the micro-infinity. The corner of our yard with the odd-looking plant. The hill just outside of town that you always see but have never actually climbed. The smell of the season’s first rain when the sun comes out. A picture in a dusty album. All of these things are in front of our noses. More often than not we are blind to these infinitely small worlds.
So I compel you, Reader – you might be healthy and you might live to 105 years old; you might be hit by a car tomorrow; you might be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease a couple years from now. But even if you do live to 105, is your life really all that long if you didn’t bother to explore it? Even a century is too short to spend time on facebook or watch daytime TV. Go outside and explore your microscopic world. See what you can find beneath your infinities. I’m no expert in living, but if there’s anything I learned from my uncle’s predicament, it’s that anytime is a good time to take a walk, drink a new beer, or drive a road on which I’ve never driven en route to a place to which I drive frequently.
Push the boundaries of your infinities.