I've always thought that real wisdom can be found in short quotes.
(Though it seems like slogans are usually a little too brief to
have true smarts.) I collect quotes in a journal I keep on
my PalmPilot (and I date my thoughts; looking back at past years'
entries helps me see how much I've been through, and prevents time
from passing through without a trace.) I've divided my skepticism-
and mortality-related quotes into 5 sections:
As they say in my country, the only thing that separates us from the animals are mindless superstition and pointless ritual.
Since God is silent, man is his own master; he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.
Uncertainty in the pressure of vivid hopes and fears is painful, but must be endured if we wish to live without the support of comforting fairy tales.
The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.
Rationality tied to moral decency is the most powerful joint instrument for good that our planet has ever known.
There are two types of creation myths: those where life arises out of the mud, and those where life falls from the sky.
I think art should be in the place in our culture where religion used to be. Where magic used to be, there should be art.
The question is complex and life is short.
It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.
One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated.
Death avoidance is not an individual failing; it’s a cultural one. Facing death is not for the faint-hearted. It is far too challenging to expect that each citizen will do so on his or her own. […] Adults who are racked with death anxiety are not odd birds who have contracted some exotic disease, but men and women whose family and culture have failed to knit the proper protective clothing for them to withstand the icy chill of mortality.
The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
Meaning of Life
We are here for no purpose, unless we can invent one.
The meaning of life is that it stops.
But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.
There ain't no answer.
I play it cool
Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain, perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside-- that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff. We are the Universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out.
All the molecules in your body were formed inside stars. We are the future of ancient stars.
People and stars are made of the same stuff.
We are star mud, just a little wet star dust.(More on the history of this sort of "we are star stuff" sentiment)
The best break anybody ever gets is in bein' alive in the first place. An' you don't unnerstan' what a perfect deal it is until you realizes that you ain't gone be stuck with it forever, either.
To feel that life is meaningless unless 'I' can be permanent is like having fallen desperately in love with an inch.
There is no certainty; there is only adventure. Even stars explode.
God made mud.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
Life is a search for the truth; and there is no truth
The most terrifying fact of the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
The fact that life has no meaning is a reason to live -- moreover, the only one.
Death destroys a man: the idea of Death saves him.
Yet, in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.
People act as if death is contagious. It's not contagious, you know. Death is as natural as life. It's part of the deal we made.
Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.
Where was it ever promised us that life on this earth can ever be easy, free from conflict and uncertainty, devoid of anguish and wonder and pain? Those who seek the folly of unrelieved 'happiness'--who fear moods, who shun solitude, who do not know the diginity of occasional depression--can find bliss easily enough: in tranquilizing pills, or in senility. The purpose of life is not to be happy.
I finally figured out the only reason to be alive is to enjoy it.
We are here to abet creation and to witness to it, to notice each other's beautiful face and complex nature so that creation need not play to an empty house.
No why. Just here.
There are no "facts"-- there is only the fact that man, every man everywhere in the world, is on his way to ordination. Some men take the long route and some take the short route. Every man is working out his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous, and patient.
Please pay attention carefully, because this is the truest thing a stranger will ever say to you: In the face of such hopelessness as our eventual, unavoidable death, there is little sense in not at least TRYING to accomplish all of your wildest dreams in life.
All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you any different.
Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it.
There's always a little bit of heaven, even in a disaster area.
It's like Vegas. You're up, you're down, but in the end the house always wins. Doesn't mean you didn't have fun.
I'm a good influence on everyone I meet-- but they don't realize until decades later. That's what I keep telling myself.
Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: This is the ideal life.
The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have.
Thank you, God, for this good life
The next time you are contemplating a decision in which you are debating whether or not to go for the gusto, ask yourself this important question: "How long am I going to be dead?" With that perspective, you can now make a free, fearless choice to do just about any goddamned sneaky thing your devious little mind can think up. Go ahead. Have your fun. You're welcome. Go on. See you in hell.
Looking back on your life, what would you say satisfied you most?"
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
So, if happiness isn't being rich, then it's probably not being middle class, which means you're just as likely to find it at rock bottom, which doesn't require all the effort, and hell, I'm already there.
Life can then little else supply
I've had a pretty good lesson in human nature. It's more important to try to surround yourself with people who can give you a little happiness, because you only pass through this life once, Jack. You don't come back for an encore.
Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.
You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.
O Mighty King, remember now that only gods stay in eternal watch.
All the things we value, however rare, however small, that give point or meaning to our lives -- the friendships, loves and absurdities; those soundscaped memories entwined with shared passions and glances that magically ensnare and enfold; the intoxications of wines and words, and wayward musings and music, with which we wrestle into misty slumbering nights, our senses revived by sparkling waters, much needed at dawn; the seascapes of wild waves, mysterious moonlights and images and widening skies that stretch the eyes -- do indeed all cease to exist; and curiously the most enchanting are oft those which we lose ourselves and also cease to be -- yet they, and we, existed at some time remains timelessly true, outside of all time.
When we gittee back from de funeral, tain nobody in de house but me and Seely. De house was full but now it empty. We old folks now and we know we ain' going have no mo' chillun. We so lonesome, but we know we cain gittee back de dead. When de spit goes from de mouf, it doan come back. When de earth eats, it doan give back. So we try to keep one 'nother comp'ny and be happy.
Life always has an unhappy ending, but you can have a lot of fun along the way, and everything doesn't have to be dripping in deep significance.
Death may be knocking on my door, but I'm not getting out of this glorious bath to answer it.
Struggle of Life
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one's death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life.
As for those who so exalt incorruptibility, inalterability, I believe they are brought to say these things through their great desire to live a long time and through the terror they have of death. And not considering that, if men were immortal, these men would not have had an opportunity to come into the world. They would deserve to encounter a Medusa’s head, which would transform them into statues of jasper or of diamond, to make them more perfect than they are . . . And there is not the slightest doubt that the Earth is far more perfect, being, as it is, alterable, changeable, than if it were a mass of stone, even if it were a whole diamond, hard and impenetrable.
I am not in favor of immortality. I believe death for humans is the way of getting rid of accumulated errors - as in trial and error. Without death, the old folks would start to gang up on the babies (the new trials). Immortality ---> immortal mistakes.
Death is a tragedy until you realize lack of Death is also a tragedy.
Listen, when I was a kid, my mother said to me: 'Bruce, one day you're going to die. You're going to die if you worry or you don't worry.' I was brought up with that philosophy, so I don't worry.
Man, as we know him, is a poor creature; but he is halfway between an ape and a god and he is traveling in the right direction.
Death is the lot of us all, and the only way that the human race has ever conquered death is by treating it with contempt. By living every golden minute as if one had all Eternity...
We should think more about it, and accustom ourselves to the thought of death. We can't allow the fear of death to creep up on us unexpectedly. We have to make the fear familiar, and one way is to write about it. I don't think writing and thinking about death is characteristic only of old men. I think that if people began thinking about death sooner, they'd make fewer foolish mistakes.
It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.
There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, 'Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.' The other one says, 'Yeah, I know, and such small portions.' Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.
Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth; every fresh morning a little youth; every going to rest and sleep a little dearth.
It's a shallow life that doesn't give a person a few scars.
Everything summons us to death; nature, as if envious of the good she had done us, announces to us often and reminds us that she cannot leave us for long that bit of matter she lends us, which must not remain in the same hands, and which must eternally be in circulation: she needs it for other forms, she asks it back for other works.
All energy is borrowed, and someday you have to give it back.
It is not true that life is one damn thing after another -- it's one damn thing over and over.
Of course, degeneration is programmed into our DNA: Nature seems to want us to reproduce and then fall by the wayside. But your generation wants to hang onto its youth into its 90s, on the theory that if you stay around long enough maybe you can get your life together.
After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box.
I am not dying, not anymore than any of us are at any moment. We run, hopefully as fast as we can, and then everyone must stop. We can only choose how we handle the race.
Life is so short, it's like a vapor. Here today, gone tomorrow. And there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all. So I don't have any advice for anybody except appreciate your loved ones around you--your family, friends, or whatever, because death is quicker than you think.
Your life would be very empty if you had nothing to regret.
Sisyphus has a sense of playfulness [...]
Today is the first day of the rest of your short, brutish existence as a sentient creature before being snuffed out into utter nothingness for all eternity.
It's either mean or it's arbitrary, and either way I've got the heebie-jeebies.
I'll never make that mistake again, reading the experts' opinions. Of course, you only live one life, and you make all your mistakes, and learn what not to do, and that's the end of you.
What if it is for life's sake that we must die? In truth we are not individuals; and it is because we think ourselves such that death seems unforgivable. We are temporary organs of the race, cells in the body of life; we die and drop away that life may remain young and strong. If we were to live forever, growth would be stifled, and youth would find no room on earth. Death, like style, is the removal of rubbish, the circumcision of the superfluous. In the midst of death life renews itself immortally.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything-- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. [...] No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.
However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe--and I am dead serious when I say this--do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.
Against other things it is possible to obtain security, but when it comes to death we human beings all live in an unwalled city.
Logotherapy, keeping in mind the essential transitoriness of human existence, is not pessimistic but rather activistic. To express this point figuratively we might say: The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadmess that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? "No, thank you," he will think, "Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy."
Sure it mattered. When you get to my age you discover that everything mattered. Life isn't a series of good and bad choices. It's harder to steer it one way or the other than most people think. You just get pulled along. You look back and you wonder 'could I have changed the course of my life?' Maybe you could've ... but it would probably have taken a tremendous force of will.
A realistic expectation also demands our acceptance that one's allotted time on earth must be limited to an allowance consistent with the continuity of our species... We die so that the world may continue to live. We have been given the miracle of life because trillions and trillions of living things have prepared the way for us and then have died--in a sense, for us. We die, in turn, so that others may live. The tragedy of a single individual becomes, in the balance of natural things, the triumph of ongoing life.
I've always had sort of an ironic view of life. My belief system is that when this is over, it's over. That you don't look down from heaven and wait for your loved ones to join you. There may be some soul activity, but I'm not sure about that. But what I am sure about is that your molecules continue and in due time become something else. That's science.
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
It's really amazing how incredibly fast life goes. Boom! You're born. You go through life, meeting troubles along the way, but you overcome those troubles, and you have a blast. And before you know it, you're dead. If that ain't beauty, I don't know what is.
"By our age, Billy, we should have come to terms with this stuff."
Death is slotted for us all, and maybe it is years from now - in a soft bed, surrounded by the soft eyes of the people that we love - or, maybe, it is not so many years from now at all. And we have every reason to be afraid. But we also need to learn to put that fear aside, like a library book. Sometimes we need to check out our fear, and- and- and read it, and- and study it and peruse it closely, but at a certain point return it to its proper shelf and experience something else.
1991 is gone already! Time goes faster and faster! And every day, our lives grow shorter!"
It's all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it.
Death Ain't So Bad
Empty-handed I entered the world