Good for Something

It’s been 10 days since I posted? Wow. I’ve been overcome by events, I suppose. Other-minded. So tonight we’ll have some thoughts on happiness and a poem not before posted here on Metaphor. Set in motion between my ears by today’s A Word A Day quote:

Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much of life. So aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.
  – Thoreau

I was talking with friends recently and my friend asked me “Are you happy?” I said yes but the question has stuck with me, largely because my friends seemed so genuinely happy. I tried to joke off the question by paraphrasing the old saying (attributed to Ludwig Wittgenstein):

"I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves."

My friend pointed out that I had missed – evaded – the point, which I knew was true. So the question continues to ebb and flow in the back of my mind.

beachWe don’t do much existentialism here at sea level. We lack the elevation, the air’s too thick, and ardent introspection clashes with the beach motif. My friends brought it down from greater altitudes. So I’ve had to use my imagination.

I suppose that most days I’m not exactly what you’d call happy; not sad or gloomy, just sloshing back and forth with the tide. I try to catch the first wave to break above unhappiness, at something like being at peace with myself. I try not to hurt other people or animals – or myself – very badly, and there is some contentment there. Happiness seems to be always coming in the next set of breakers; I can feel its portentous swell beneath me even now.

Gladness flows from simply being of use to others from time to time.

If one is only up to his knees in the foam and talking to the sand birds, it’s hard to be swept away.

I am reminded of another quote of Wittgenstein, "Make sure that your religion is a matter between you and God only." And I wonder whether God might say I’m really very happy after all, but it’s our little secret.

And I am inspired, frequently, profoundly, though mostly by you. And that’s OK, right? To live week to week vicariously steeped in radical amazement? Even the flashing, streaking Perseids will look around at one another, don’t you think? Maybe now and then one shouts, “Boy, is this great!”

Here’s a beautiful little video for you to see, to make the most of the ocean metaphors. It’s a short film about a surf photographer, who has some deep things to say about the sea and creativity.

By the way, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s last words were reportedly, “Tell them I had a wonderful life.” To be contrasted with those of Ludwig Van Beethoven,"Pity, pity—too late!" He was dying, knew it, and someone told him he had just received a gift of a case of wine. (A pretty mean trick, yeah?) By which the blogger reminds his readers tempis fugit, y’all.

What about you, then? Are you happy? I hope so. Here’s the poem.


The winter waves have stripped away
   the sand and left these rocks
   great shifted reefs of jagged black
Raked countless small gray stones
   in somber sheets beneath the bluff

I’ve come to ask a favor of the sea
   hoping she might take away my fear
Embrace it as she would a drowning child
   sweep it fast and deep and forever
   along the Channel to the south

They say that after the panic
   as light from the surface falls away
   it feels like drifting off to sleep
This dread is well accustomed to the cold
It would rest so happily in silence

In springtime a fisherman in Mexico
   will find my fear
Catch it with a snag of kelp
Carry it home for his supper unawares
   with a small string of perch

He will wake up in the night
   worried about something
   he was supposed to be
Clutching his chest in the soaking dark
   and smelling the pitiless sea


Creative Commons License
Light From The Surface by J. Kyle Kimberlin
was first published in 1994 and is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
Which means it can be freely copied and shared, with attribution.