Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love of Life

I am a big fan of Jack London. For some reason, except for "The Call of the Wild", he is not terribly popular in this country - perhaps because of his socialist politics.

Anyway, one of his short stories, "The Love of Life" is about a man, a gold prospector, who is stranded in the Yukon wilderness, and manages to eventually get rescued. Here's how it ends:

Three weeks afterward the man lay in a bunk on the whale-ship Bedford, and with tears streaming down his wasted cheeks told who he was and what he had undergone. He also babbled incoherently of his mother, of sunny Southern California, and a home among the orange groves and flowers.

The days were not many after that when he sat at table with the scientific men and ship's officers. He gloated over the spectacle of so much food, watching it anxiously as it went into the mouths of others. With the disappearance of each mouthful an expression of deep regret came into his eyes. He was quite sane, yet he hated those men at meal-time. He was haunted by a fear that the food would not last. He inquired of the cook, the cabin-boy, the captain, concerning the food stores. They reassured him countless times; but he could not believe them, and pried cunningly about the lazarette to see with his own eyes.

It was noticed that the man was getting fat. He grew stouter with each day. The scientific men shook their heads and theorized. They limited the man at his meals, but still his girth increased and he swelled prodigiously under his shirt.

The sailors grinned. They knew. And when the scientific men set a watch on the man, they knew too. They saw him slouch for'ard after breakfast, and, like a mendicant, with outstretched palm, accost a sailor. The sailor grinned and passed him a fragment of sea biscuit. He clutched it avariciously, looked at it as a miser looks at gold, and thrust it into his shirt bosom. Similar were the donations from other grinning sailors. The scientific men were discreet. They let him alone. But they privily examined his bunk. It was lined with hardtack; the mattress was stuffed with hardtack; every nook and cranny was filled with hardtack. Yet he was sane. He was taking precautions against another possible famine -- that was all. He would recover from it, the scientific men said; and he did, ere the Bedford's anchor rumbled down in San Francisco Bay.

I am not well. I am the man in the story, except I am not sure I will recover. I make a good living, but I am constantly paranoid that it will not be enough, that all the stuff I have will disappear and I will not be be able to support my family, that I will be deemed a failure, that we will wind up on the street.

This is not completely baseless. Paying for my kids to go to Jewish dayschool is about the same as buying a new Lexus every year and pushing it off a cliff. My wife is not in a position to get a job and wont be for some time. My parents are old, not healthy, and will probably need a good bit of financial support soon. And the industry I am in is not really flourishing.

However, this fear is irrational and it is destroying my happiness, my wife's happiness, my health. But I cannot seem to escape it. I meditateobsess on it all the time. To add insult to injury, I seem to not be able to take steps to improve my situation. Like the man in the story who knows that the food is there, but cannot stop hoarding it. This is not good.

In general, I am a pessimist by nature. Gorbachev once said that life is : You're born, you suffer, you die. I tend to agree, but this course of thinking that I am on is beyond the pale of reason. I am causing definite bad things to happen by worrying about potential bad things happening. Yet I cannot stop.

I am not really comfortable sharing. I am not a "touchy-feely" guy. As a matter of fact, y'all should pretend that you didn't read this.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

I can't really give you any useful advice, but I can certainly empathize with your situation, both financial and state of mind. I'm not really sure what can be done about this, except to train oneself to think more about the positive things in life and about how it could be much worse... and continue to persever in one's efforts. Maybe with time things will change, and unexpected opportunities will come up!

May 10, 2006 2:55 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

By the way, there's an excellent short story by D.H.Lawrence dealing with the exact same issue in a very different way. It's called "The Rocking Horse Winner".

May 10, 2006 2:59 PM  
Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

May 10, 2006 3:00 PM  
Blogger Shoshana said...

I never saw this post.

But if I had, I would say that you are normal - many people worry about supporting themselves and their families financially. And to make ends meet these days isn't easy. I want to give some good advice here, but I just don't really have anything that wouldn't sound trite. Sorry :(

May 10, 2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger dbs said...

First of all, as you point out, this isn't a completely irrational obsession. It is amazing how much it costs to live just a normal middle class existence. Being Orthodox automatically means that you pay high tuition, must live within walking distance of a shul (which makes housing options limited), and that you’ll pay more for many basic foods. It is a tough problem.

I’m certainly not going to try to talk you out of your concerns, but here is how I try to look at things. (I am amazingly fortunate to have reached financial security, but I have other problems in my life which are not very enviable.)

People say, “Life is never perfect”. I have a slightly different take. “Life is never without some very, very serious and immediate problem.” Look at us, we have, perhaps, the highest standard of living of any country in the history of the world. We have the best health care, the most conveniences, etc.. But is there EVER a time when we or someone very close to us is not having some severe crisis? Someone is always seriously ill, or is having a financial or emotional crisis. Something is always VERY wrong with life.

And yet, this day, the one with all of those problems, this may well be the best day of our lives. Tomorrow may be better, it may be worse, we don’t know. But life is about putting together today, tomorrow, the next day, etc., in the best way that we can. That ‘best’ is different for each person. For some it is having fun, for some it is helping others, for some it is accomplishing something, for some it is just watching the clouds go by. But whatever it is for you, that is what your life is. It isn’t about waiting until it gets better, it’s about finding what is terrific about it right now.

Okay, sorry for the shmuz, but this is something which I’ve tangled with a lot myself.

May 10, 2006 5:00 PM  
Blogger The Jewish Freak said...

Do not be afraid of anti-depressant medications. They are affordable and they work (on anxiety as well as depression).

May 10, 2006 8:28 PM  
Blogger lightseeker said...

I’m hesitant to write since I don’t regularly comment and I understand that you don’t like this touchy feely stuff. However I do read and enjoy your posts and felt compelled to share. The fact that you can see what you’re doing and its consequences means that you’re already far past half way to a better place. If you feel that you haven’t been able to “take steps to improve my situation” just means you need to take smaller steps. I’ve actually been successful with some inner rewriting of my hard disk by taking tiny baby steps that were in the general direction of my bigger goal and being very patient with my slow and non linear progress. If the prospector set out to just take one less morsel from the sailors each day, eventually his hoarding would decrease and he might be able to heal.

May 10, 2006 9:56 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Thanks for all the advice. I think each person who left a message touched on an aspect of how to make this better.

1) Part of this is my personality. I will never eradicate this, but I can make it better.

2) I read the DH Lawrence story. Google is my friend. Thanks, Irina.

3) Shoshana, what post? ;)

4)DBS - very insightful point about always knowing someone with a crisis.

5)JF - I have thought about anit-depressants, and I am afraid. Mind altering substances scare me. Not really rational, but there it is.

6)Lightseeker, thanks for your comment. Baby steps is a good advice in most of life's situations. This is what I am embarking on.

Most importantly, just being able to "confess" is taking me a long way towards feeling better.

May 11, 2006 8:12 AM  

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