THE BEST SEAT
IN THE HOUSE
I think you could have rested quite comfortably upon a log, or a big rock, or on the sand, or a seat at the college library, or a park bench. This is because you sought your rest only when you needed it. And were glad of whatever device or setting might accommodate your body without too much discomfort. You simply desired to rest.
There was a time in my own life when I had seemingly everything. I was just beyond the end of youth and making ready for middle-age, and I didn't have much idea about what it meant to live well, and so I employed my seeming abundance towards making a good show of living well. I made my life into a theater. And I produced a display to communicate to myself and others that I was a successful actor.
My first performance was the purchase of a nice home, which I began to furnish nicely. Then, I started inviting people over to see what I had done. That was easy... And it felt pretty good—as long as I kept busy—as long as I didn't have time to think.
The production of this show of my life was a good way to stay distracted; a good way to not hear the little voice that was trying to speak to me of other things. I was so busy for more than a year that I could barely hear the little voice asking me what I was doing? But eventually I ran out of space to prepare and decorate. I had put things everywhere. In particular, I had a lot of chairs...
Many places to sit
Nowhere to rest
My show-house had an enormous yard, over an acre of land. And we had a pool. And lovely landscaping all around the pool with fruit trees of many sort. Each day, on my way home from work, I stopped at a big nursery to look at and buy plants for the yard. I also bought chairs—a lot of chairs. I purchased patio chairs, garden chairs, benches and all sorts of antique garden seating which I could place all over the yard. I put these items around the pool, and out in the garden, and next to a big tree and around an especially nice spot at the edge of a hill overlooking a picturesque valley view. The centerpiece for all of this was a quite expensive collection of wrought-iron patio furniture just outside the back door, which I had arranged below a redwood arbor I'd had built. So many places to sit. Just nowhere to rest.
I only remember forcing myself to ever sit in any of those chairs. I'd tell myself to sit down and try a seat out when I first moved it into the yard, though I'd never sit in it again once I had in place and adjusted just so, and had the view from the seat just right, and the position next to the little table to place one's coffee was perfectly set. Done! I was done with that setting and seat. And I would move on to the next showpiece place of rest.
The Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius was satisfied with "a plank bed and skin" and wrote that "it is possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and such-like show" which speaks to not only a simple life, but a life of spartan outward wants; a life in which the satisfaction of living comes less from external display or comforts and more from some inner fulfillment. This was the point I was missing with my show-house of many chairs. For, I had created a personal palace displaying the outward trappings of rest and peace before first cultivating an inner-man of such character. I had no place to sit as I was then incapable of rest.
Eventually, I gave up my seats, and my possessions, and my home, and that life. But I kept my family. But I kept my values—as confused and unidentified as they were at that age. And I kept my movement and inability to sit and rest. And I took that restless show on the road, on a Great Life Adventure with my wife and daughter. And I stopped trying to quiet the little man speaking to me from within. I began to listen then to what he was trying to say.
It is a neat trick to neither lament nor attempt to remember the lives we did not live. For we all walk strange roads in our minds sometimes when our current path becomes rough or confused. It is tempting to reflect on the ways we could have gone instead of becoming now so seemingly lost. But what mastery to reflect little or not at all on imagined lives, no more than to be remembered as a cautionary tale to inform reason ahead of our future way.
I would walk always today just where I am now. And walk tomorrow from where today's journey takes me. Never wanting to be someone else, or someplace else, or to be doing other than what I must or should or what necessity or the pursuit of virtue demands; all the while remembering my still better self and adjusting my aim towards that more worthy mark. And so, I will live truly from day through day. I will live well in the life that I have yet to live. There will be no pining for past lives never lived, or a current now only imagined like a dream, or some tomorrow which truly could never be. There's always room for a true tomorrow. There is always a place for a better next sunrise. Though only if we arrive at that place via the contented journey starting with now.