Do you ever stop to think?


A few years ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me what I liked to do in my spare time.

“I like to think,” I said off the cuff.

I wasn’t trying to be pompous or anything.

I just like to think about things.

It is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

If the un-examined life is not worth living, the examined life is a never-ending thrill ride of delight.

I have to admit that as a young man, I tended to dwell on the dark side of things.

Maybe that is because as a child of a WWII vet, I could never free myself of the knowledge that my dad had walked into a German concentration camp and witnessed unspeakable atrocities.

Maybe as a teenage growing up in the American South during the Civil Rights era, I knew the issues too well, saw people treat others as objects because of accidents of birth.

Maybe it was Vietnam and the Kennedy assassinations.

Maybe it was the proximity of the “I Have a Dream” speech and a rifle shot in Memphis.

Or maybe it was my upbringing in a church where eternal things often stood next to the trivialities of social customs.

But as I aged I came to understand that the things I had lived through were nothing but the stock in trade of the human experience.

Things had always been this way, and people had long attempted to  make sense of it.

I remember another conversation with a social worker who scoffed at the philosophy of Plato, referring to it as thinking that had no place in the modern world, the world that had solved the deep issues of life by applying the tenets of science.

“What is there about the human situation that we understand better today than Plato did?” I asked her.

Now as someone who spends time putting words on paper, I have come to understand that books are important, not because they solve all our problems, but because they make us think.

Or at least they should.

The thing is that where I look now to find something that spurs my imagination is not in a science book, or an encyclopedia, or a legal treatise.

The underside of the leaf is what intrigues me now, and I find it most often hidden in a novel about the inter-relationships between people, the stories about how things work out in the most unlikely ways.

If there is anything I have learned thus far, it is that life is at its heart unpredictable, that what has actually happened in the real world makes the tales of fiction seem dull and unimaginative.

Unless, of course, the novel writer has taken the time first to consider life, to wonder at the way implausible circumstances can create a  moment of truth and teach a lesson about life.

Now that’s something to think about.


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