A quiet Friday night lent itself to the introspection that accompanies boredom. Unfortunately it was a little to difficult to read, I tried recording a bit but the product was depressing. So, I had time and thoughts to myself. I thought about writing a little bit last night, but I am so happy that I didn’t. This morning I picked us Pascal’s Pensee’s and came across note #36. He said it better than I,
Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself. So who does not see it apart from young people whose lives are all noise, diversions, and thoughts for the future?
But take away their diversion and you will see them bored to extinction. Then they feel their nullity without recognizing it, for nothing could be more wretched than to be intolerably depressed as soon as one is reduced to introspection with no means of diversion. (Pascal’s Pensee’s p. 8)
This amazing, somewhat depressing little nugget seemed to pinpoint my own pondering as well as the thoughts of a few friends. In the midst of work, our interests, and our business we can sometimes achieve this incredible sense of introspective boredom. In these times, nothing seems to satisfy. No activity, or hobby quenches our thirst for a sign of life, or significance. Or we realize that we have placed our significance into something, or someone (in Pascal’s mind a diversion) that cannot bear the weight of such a great burden. In this case, we either come to our senses, or are painfully let down.
It’d be easy to go into a discussion on what our focus should be, or what should hold the thrust of our desires. I think Lewis’ Weight of Glory or Augustine’s disordered love theory sufficiently covers that, but for many of us who acknowledge the content covered in those works, we’re still stuck in a state of boredom. I think this is where society can grab hold.
Many people in my generation have either read or viewed at least one book in the Harry Potter series. Here we have a protagonist destined for greatness, the Chosen One. From a young age he has purpose and possesses major significance. He matters to the people who are good, and he matters to those who are evil as they wish him dead. Harry Potter is not an extra either, he will not merely set something in motion or assist. Harry will decide the fate of all those around him as well. However, one does not have to watch or read Harry Potter to catch this storyline. Countless stories give a character some purpose, some goal to achieve where the character must take risks and gamble with his or her life. Also, literature is set up in a way that every aspect of the individual’s life is leading up to some greater moment. Harry Potter does not merely go to 7-11 to get a Slurpee. He purchases a Slurpee and discovers an ancient secret that will help him overthrow the one whom I am forbid to type. Our trips do not usually have this apparent meaning.
Our daily lives do not reflect the importance that literary and film heroes have. We obviously can recognize that there is a fantastical element, and know we will not fight some wizard or monster in a climactic moment. Yet, we feed our minds with excitement and live in routine. However, our routine juxtaposed with the reality that our world has more problems and possesses greater evils than that which we view on film. One can just view the current pictures of Somalian refugees to reel in nausea. We really can look into our own cities, our own neighborhoods, even our own families to see pain. Or you can just view the questions we still have to answer. Are we alone in the universe? Can we find a cure for cancer? Are we killing the planet? So we feed our minds with excitement from entertainment, still see a world, sometimes a family in need, and then look at ourselves. We ask the questions, “what am I doing?” We set up a comparison with those that we view. Sometimes the people are real. The man quoted above, Pascal, invented the syringe, hydraulic press, helped with the study of probability, provided an extensive study on what is now “Pascal’s triangle” (the Chinese and Islamic peoples had used this about 500 prior, but his was the first Western study), was a mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He only lived for 39 years and was sick the whole time. Some of his key inventions were already in place by age 18. My accomplishments pale in comparison.
No, I shouldn’t make the comparison. His circumstances and mine, and Harry Potter’s for that matter are quite different. Yet I think the comparisons will always be there. We see excitement from movies, books, stories, and take everything in. However, when the dust settles and we look at ourselves, it isn’t always pleasant. What have I done? What can I do? Should I take a risk? Is there a risk in not taking a risk? Sure. Even when we answer these questions, we might have just created another diversion for ourselves. Ultimately, I believe that God is the one that holds everything together and our significance should be rooted in Him. And yes, everything is vain apart from that. Our desires need to be retooled at times and redirected. Yet, even with that in mind we are still confronted with those questions. Who will we be?