Monday, June 8, 2009

There is Nothing either Good or Bad but Thinking Makes It So

Pico Iyer, the intellectual and novelist, writes today in the NYT:

“The beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active, and yet more peaceful,
and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches…My [life] is one
long sequence of inner miracles.” The young Dutchwoman Etty Hillesum wrote that
in a Nazi transit camp in 1943, on her way to her death at Auschwitz two months
later. Towards the end of his life, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “All I have seen
teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen,” though by then he had
already lost his father when he was 7, his first wife when she was 20 and his
first son, aged 5. In Japan, the late 18th-century poet Issa is celebrated for
his delighted, almost child-like celebrations of the natural world. Issa saw
four children die in infancy, his wife die in childbirth, and his own body
partially paralyzed.

I’m not sure I knew the details of all these lives when I was 29, but I did
begin to guess that happiness lies less in our circumstances than in what we
make of them, in every sense. “There is nothing either good or bad,” I had heard
in high school, from Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.” I had been lucky enough
at that point to stumble into the life I might have dreamed of as a boy: a great
job writing on world affairs for Time magazine, an apartment (officially at
least) on Park Avenue, enough time and money to take vacations in Burma,
Morocco, El Salvador. But every time I went to one of those places, I noticed
that the people I met there, mired in difficulty and often warfare, seemed to
have more energy and even optimism than the friends I’d grown up with in
privileged, peaceful Santa Barbara, Calif., many of whom were on their fourth
marriages and seeing a therapist every day. Though I knew that poverty certainly
didn’t buy happiness, I wasn’t convinced that money did either.

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