10 January 2006

"Nothing lasts forever.
Everything dies.
The Earth itself is eaten away by time."

Ok, I'm not even sure I've got the quote right, but I think that's the rough version. It's from the Hellenic legend of Orpheus (or-fee-yus) and Euridice (yoo-ri-di-see), excuse my spelling to blazes.

When Orpheus, the hero whose musical skills could move mountains and pacify storms (like he did with Jason and the Argonauts on the quest for the Golden Fleece), loses his love (Euridice), he gets very depressed, and decides to reclaim her from the very pits of the Underworld. because he's such a bad-ass musician, he manages to play tunes that soothe Cerberus (the three-headed puppy guarding the gates of hell) and coerce Charon (the Ferryman) to give him a free ride across the river Styx. He stands before the throne of Hades, and plays music so sweet, that the foundations of the earth are moved by it, but Hades merely laughs at him.

So Orpheus plays again.

But this time, he plays to Persephone, goddess of the spring, wife of Hades. Good thing, too, because she's so moved by his music, into which he pours his sadness, his love, and all that he is, that SHE appeals to Hades to release Euridice. And Hades, the big bad boy of the Realm of the Dead, agrees.

But being a Greek God comes with a few fringe benefits, which meant that Hades got to set a condition: Orpheus could have Euridice back, provided he did not look behind him to see if she was following while they were still in the underworld. Now, normally, that shouldn't be a problem, right? Well, it wouldn't have been, but the steps of the dead make no sound, and so Orpheus was forced to walk, unsure of whether the woman he had done the impossible to save was following him, until he couldn't help it any more, and looked back.

And lost Euridice for the second and final time.

Understandably, he went into deep depression, and refused to play beautiful music again, until he was murdered by a group of angry women....can't remember why exactly.

So, the moral of the story? I'm not sure. But the quote at the beginning is from Persephone telling Orpheus that he should give up on his quest, and accept that death is the end of all. I guess that quote has stuck with me for so many years because it was the first time I thought about mortality and that nothing lasts forever.

If any of you are familiar with the works of Tom Stoppard, check out a play called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It's an ingenious work in and of itself, but one particular bit sticks out: the two characters are philosophising, and they wonder why nobody remembers the moment they learned about death. I mean, it's a pretty traumatic experience. You'd expect that to be imprinted on your psyche.

Well, that proves Stoppard wrong.

But anyway. So, the world is not infinite; in fact, nothing is. The universe itself will one day collapse into nothing. Weird concept, nothingness. That's why people like to believe in an afterlife, I guess. That's why I like to believe in it, anyway.

So if nothing lasts forever, and "all we are is dust in the wind", what's the point to it all? As far as pearls of wisdom go, I believe this to be the true essence of happiness:

Enjoy life. Enjoy every last moment. Take the time to appreciate things. Remember the happy moments, and think back on them often. They should stay with you forever. Contentment is a great thing, so worry not about what might have been, be happy about what was. No recrimations, no regrets. After all, it is this fleeting nature of the world that makes it all so special. The beauty of a kiss, the feel of a loved one's hand in a moment of anguish, the look in someone's eye...the list goes on.

Just imagine if we were meant to last all eternity; you'd be so sick of life, you'd give anything to end it. There's a certain providence in the fall of a sparrow (Hamlet, Shakespeare's attempt at Haiku), and it's that briefness of life that makes everything so beautiful. Sure, it feels as though the world has ended when someone you love has been lost to you, and you'd do anything to get them back. But even orpheus, who gives me hope by how close he got, was incapable of changing the way things must be.

All shall one day come to dust, so enjoy that which you have.

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