Tuesday 20 November 2018

Dinner Party Reflections

We had a belated Martinmass dinner last week (without the traditional goose, however, as they are raised hereabouts solely for Christmas) with four guests.  One  guest explained that he would not have seconds of soup because he followed Stoical practises, and I was delighted to have met a practising Stoic. I have been reading William B. Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, and I think a return to Christian Stoicism is the way to go.

I think this in part because I complain much too much lately, but also because I have been battling some sort of eczema for the first time in my life, and it makes me feel like Job. Poor old Job lost everything and everybody except (irony) his annoyed wife and a few judgmental friends and THEN was afflicted with boils.  

For the first time in my life, incidentally, it occurs to me that Job's wife lost everything and everybody, too. She wasn't afflicted with boils, but she probably had to wake up to the sound of Job scratching away at his boils. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Horrible. 

Fortunately we have bought two nice secondhand bookcases and have finished putting all our possessions away and have hung up our pictures, so I have less to complain about. Also, I have been following the Stoic advice to imagine the flat burning down, so as to feel more grateful for it. In order to appreciate what you have, it is a good practice to imagine how much worse life would be without it. When my eczema clears up, I will think about having had eczema, so as to even more enjoy not having it. 

This negative visualisation works with people, too. On my father's 40th birthday, I was suddenly seized with a terrible fear he might die of old age at any minute. He's still going strong in his late 70s, but for over 30 years I have not allowed myself to take this for granted. My mother had a stroke at 50, so for over 20 years I have also not taken my mother's life for granted, either.  I hadn't realised that this was considered a healthy Stoic practise, however. 

In the 1980s, we were occasionally reminded by priests that we could die at any minute, and indeed we were all still alarmed by the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. Middle-age should therefore taste sweet to the children of the 1970s and 1980s, for it was not certain then that we would ever attain it.  Meanwhile, one of the most stupendous moments of my life was sitting in a Catholic radio studio in Warsaw being interviewed about Seraphic Singles (or, actually, Anielskie Single) because such a thing would have been beyond my wildest Iron Curtain-era dreams.

Another Stoic discipline suggested by A Guide to the Good Life is to eschew luxury and to value poverty. At the same time, however, you have to work hard serving humanity in one form or another, doing the best you can and becoming the best you can be, which often translates into having enough money for at least a simple existence. 

The emphasis is therefore on what you have, rather than what you haven't, with a primary interest in one's character. So I am going to try to become more Stoical by giving up complaining--which will be easier if this new steroid cream works and the dust mites, which I am currently slaying, really are to blame for these horrible spots. Scratch, scratch. 

1 comment:

  1. Some people are allergic to certain ingredients in paint and it sets off a skin reaction. I'm not sure if you are redecorating but it may be a factor too. Paraffin gel, flammable mind you but then you don't smoke, can be very soothing.