Pretty petty problems, pale by comparison

It started to rain just after I reached my office yesterday, meaning I’d have to deal with a wet bikeride to class or else hoof it under an umbrella. Pretty petty problem, a first-worlder if ever there was one. But I grumbled internally anyway.

Then the phone rang, reporting a stranger’s real problem: an unexpected death in the family, deep sadness, a plea for emotional support and guidance.

It seems our everyday default, even those of us fortunate enough to be gainfully employed in the ideas industry – at least that’s what academia was supposed to be, before the paper-pushing “Student Success”-mongers gained their ascendency – is set for “petty.” We gratuitously, habitually sweat the small stuff until something exceptional wrenches us out of our quotidian sleepwalk.

So I pedaled to class just a little more mindfully, and talked about all that… about how the best traditions in philosophy east and west remind us to rise above all the small stuff, the trivial internal monologue of complaint. They teach us “how to die,” or really how to live in the shadow of mortality with courage, integrity, equanimity, and on the best days joy.

It was a good day to polish Socrates’ pedestal, and to appreciate the seeming effortlessness of Taoist harmony.  A good day to wonder what kind of  person fears death, and what kind of soul it is that learns how to really live.

5:30/6:27, 72/83

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