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A Cure for Consternation

October 26, 2017 by

I read Ray Bradbury’s The Last Night of the World and it seemed an all-too-likely scenario. His chilling meditation on a husband and wife as they calmly go about their evening routine like they’ve always done, knowing that as the family sleeps there will be a final “closing of the book” and humanity’s total extinction. There’s no panic, only acceptance:

“Where’s that spirit of self-preservation the scientists talk about so much?”
“I don’t know. You don’t get too excited when you feel things are logical. This is logical. Nothing else but this could have happened from the way we’ve lived.”
“We haven’t been too bad, have we?”
“No, nor enormously good. I suppose that’s the trouble. We haven’t been very much of anything except us, while a big part of the world was busy being lots of quite awful things…”

Isn’t that the problem? This logical tolerance of “that’s just how it is,” being content in simply “being us” while the world goes to hell! What about innocent kids? We should all be…!

Is it any good to add to the noise, or better to quietly try and live a way that opposes the chaos?

As one easily does these days, I quickly come down with the crippling symptoms of consternation.

I’ve wondered if there’s value in adding extra fury to the noise or if it’s more profitable to quietly try and live a way that opposes the chaos. And I found an unexpected answer in a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my daughter. (If you’re in New York City and have a spare day – go, if nothing else to meet William the Hippo.)

To walk through gallery after gallery renewed my sense of life’s splendor. I saw the fire of ideas that have wonderfully outlasted centuries of catastrophe, government, and war. This fire defies the notion that we are simply created to live here, as Bradbury’s soulless animations are.

Rembrant

Stared down by Rembrandt, I had to wonder how many millions have also looked into those eloquent eyes since 1660. What has he observed and overheard? What would he like to say?

As my daughter and I shared a sandwich in the café overlooking Central Park, we watched street performers, endless joggers, and lively families enjoying the fall sun. I recalled what Marcus Aurelius advised, to “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

There’s a defiant faith in looking for this beauty around us, to see it radiate between cracks in the bedlam. It’s wise to turn our attention from the world’s noise and quietly look up again to the stars.

Walking later through the park we were accosted by the caricature artists. My daughter was thrilled as together we watched the carefree creation take shape. Maybe what Rembrandt wants to say is, “Get me out of here and into the sunshine of the park, buy me a piece of New York pizza, and let me sketch some smiles back onto the faces of kids…”

sketch of a young girl 

Riding the Metro-North train home, we watched the first stars appear as the sun set over the stately Hudson Highlands.

I’ve read that when Rembrandt died they found unfinished on his easel a rough painting of the prophet Simeon holding the newborn Messiah he’d waited for his whole life. There’s release, joy, and peace all present on the old man’s face, knowing that in spite of all life’s troubles, here lay the light of salvation.

I should be more like Simeon. Less annoyed – faithfully waiting – hopefully looking up.

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About the author

man drawing on a screen

Jason Landsel

Jason lives in upstate New York at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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  • I was really enjoying this but it seems like you finished writing in a hurry... I want to hear more! :)

    Erik