“I am anxiously waiting
For the secret of eternal life to be discovered
By an obscure practitioner.”
From the poem, “I Am Waiting,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
While I certainly qualify as an “obscure practitioner,” in spite of many years of tenacious contemplation and unrelenting reflection on the nature of human consciousness, I cannot claim to have even approached the discovery to which Ferlinghetti alludes in his poem. There are many different paths we can pursue to lead us through our temporal lives, and while some of them can open our hearts and minds to the ineffable energies that support sentient life in all its diversity and mystery, along the way, we sometimes encounter stumbling blocks that remind us of just how deep the mystery can be.
”Numberless are the chances to which, as they know, the life of man is subject; For grief is felt not so much for the want of what we have never known, as for the loss of that to which we have been long accustomed.”
–Thucydides Funeral Oration of Pericles
Recent conversation on how we view the quality and character of our everyday reality as being either ordinary or extraordinary, coupled with a sobering personal melancholy, has prompted me to consider this idea more closely.
It is particularly telling that we often hear about so-called “extraordinary people” longing for a return to life before they were considered so, and those whose life may be less spectacular in such demonstrative ways, thinking it enviable, wishing for something more, as if sentient life was not an astonishingly extraordinary gift all by itself.
It may be difficult to discern at every moment the value of whatever life we do possess, and the experience of the many possible varieties of misfortune can challenge even the most optimistic and out-of-the-ordinary among us, but we need look no further than our own eyes and hearts are willing to see and feel, to know that there is value in every life. The extraordinary is so often right in front of us; we sometimes simply fail to recognize it.
“Epicurus thought that of all the contributions that wisdom makes to the blessedness of the complete life, much the most important is the possession of friendship; that the chief concerns of the right-minded person are wisdom and friendship, of which the former is a mortal benefit, the latter an immortal one. In these pronouncements he is referring to something more than ordinary friendship: he means the friendship, fellowship, and love of persons who share the same ideals and the same philosophy.”
—from “Introduction to Lucretius: On the Nature of Things,” by M.F. Smith
The wonderful feelings of friendship and shared experiences that occur here on a regular basis, with some of the most gracious and thoughtful hearts and minds in memory, confirms what Lucretius wrote more than two thousand years ago. While we do not all see the world in the same way, and may not agree philosophically on every point, the wisdom and friendship of ordinary people can truly be extraordinary.