“What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die. … I certainly do not deny that I still recognize an imperative of knowledge and that through it one can work upon men, but it must be taken up into my life, and that is what I now recognize as the most important thing.”
Recently, I have been experiencing many conflicting emotions arising out of my current situation of not being able to do many things that I would like to do. The core problem based on which the other factors build, is the need for me to be physically present to provide the care for my father, which he would not get if I were to put him in a home for the aged or some such place, nor arrange for hired help to provide the same at home with all its attendant facilities to which he is used to. I am resigned to the present state of affairs, and that too is part of the problem!
I often feel guilty for even thinking such thoughts. That is the level of conditioning that I have been exposed to, by our Indian tradition of providing care for our aged. I have seen other relatives and friends in similar situations going through exactly the same experiences and though comparisons are of no help, I cannot help reflect on the time when I provided care for my late wife for nine years without going through these conflicts. The reason being, I suppose, that when it was caring for my wife it was out of love and when I am doing it for my father it is due to a sense of obligation that a dutiful son has to carry out due to the conditioning. It is also possible that in the former case, there was expressed appreciation and gratitude whereas in the latter the care giving is taken for granted.
On further reflection, I also conclude that when it was caring for my wife it was the higher purpose or meaning that one looks for in life at the level of self actualisation that Abraham Maslow talks about or, the meaning that Viktor Frankl talks about in his ” Man’s search for meaning.”
Now, the conflict and the guilt, is in not being able to assign the same intensity of “meaning” to the current situation, which is more like the Quiet Desperation that Thoreau talks about in his “Walden”.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” (Bold lettering mine)
– Henry David Thoreau, in Walden.
I have read Walden on three different occasions and on each, I have spent time on this particular paragraph in the first chapter. I have kept this quote in a number of places so that I can go to it at need to reflect on this observation, whenever some thing triggers it off.
In the present particular situation, I wonder if it is really the wisdom that Thoreau talks about that I do not do desperate things like arranging for alternative methods of giving care to my father, or running away from it all, or whatever, or whether it is something more noble! Whatever it is, I often do feel like I am living a life of quiet desperation and that annoys me. That it annoys me further aggravates the desperation and it is, I can clearly see, a self fulfilling prophecy or a reinforcing loop or whatever else one wants to call it.
At the end of all such reflection, I simply conclude that it is perfectly normal, and I am just a human being with normal instincts and reactions and it is perfectly the normal thing to do, living a life of a quiet desperation. But as Soren Kierkegaard points out in the quote given at the beginning of this post, I am still in search of the same “most important thing.”
Or am I?