“Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things” -Kurt Vonnegut
Quotes like this are nice but quickly fill us with a certain dread; the fact that we have, and will likely continue, to live for the future, attached to seemingly unshakeable contracts, deadlines and aspirations. We sense that our kids smile, the dog greeting you at the door and those flowers on the way to work deserve our attention. Unfortunately, they rarely demand it. Instead, days go by and we find ourselves bound to a world of abstraction, alien to the simple joys that make living worth it.
Cuddling, afternoon bike rides in childhood, a brief encounter with a hummingbird. These moments don’t enhance our job prospects. They certainly don’t keep the economy going — that is unless an advertising company can pin them to a certain product; persuading us into the tragic idea that the acquisition of a certain material is necessary for such moments to emerge. The truth is they’re right here at all times. The world is enough.
Camus’ “Nuptials”, a poetic ode to the beauty of Algeria, takes this as a central idea. He writes “the world is beautiful and outside there is no salvation”. Like Thales, who spent so long gazing at the stars in speculation, he fell into a well, so too can we get lost in abstraction and pondering to such an extent that we fail to see what’s in front of us.
Camus, like Nietzsche, argues that hope is the poison that leads us to such error. We hope for a life after death, for an imagined lover or perfect career that will offer us salvation; that will give meaning and fulfillment and tell us that not all is necessarily lost. So we go through life as if it’s a problem to be solved rather than a mystery to be explored. This method, unfortunately, deprives us of understanding that the world is enough. For Camus there are already a sufficient amount of certainties for us to enjoy our time here.
“To feel one’s ties to a land, one’s love for certain men, to know there is always a place where the heart can find rest — these are already many certainties for one man’s life”.
The raw physicality and aesthetic beauty expressed in his writing further cements his pledge to a life here and now above all else.
“The breeze is cool and the sky blue. I love this life with abandon and wish to speak of it boldly: it makes me proud of my human condition. Yet people have often told me: there’s nothing to be proud of. Yes, there is: this sun, this sea, my heart leaping with youth, the salt taste of my body and this vast landscape in which tenderness and glory merge in blue and yellow.”
Of course, giving up the notion of an afterlife is near impossible. Even if we try, there will always be a small glimmer of hope that those who pass will return in some form, that we can somehow transcend the only certainty we have over our lives: that one day we will be no more. But escaping this idea of an afterlife allows us to fully salvage the sensory beauty of our earthly moment. If this is all we truly have, then those moments that tell us that all of this is worth it, the smile of a loved one, an amazing view, a sweet piece of music that carries your heart away…these moments are our salvation.
“I do not want to believe that death is the gateway to another life. For me it is a closed door” he writes. In the same manner that a nonsensical run-on sentence requires a period to embed within it any sort of meaning, so too must our absurd and ill-defined lives find purpose in finality.
Moments of beauty, peak experiences as Abraham Maslow defined them, are what we should be chasing while the hourglass fills. Hope cheats us out of the wealth that surround us.
“Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a book or painting, or from some creative moment” .
These moments are more than enough, sufficient in their power to remove, however temporarily, the dread of death. Look out for them. Hold on to them. Live for them.