I mentioned in a previous post that I had read "The Day of the Locust." In the final scene of the novel, the main character watches a crowd at a Hollywood premier, and he seeks to understand the faces in the crowd.
All their lives they had slaved at some kind of dull, heavy labor, behind desks and counters, in the fields and at tedious machines of all sorts, saving their pennies and dreaming of the leisure that would be theirs when they had enough. Finally that day came. They could draw a weekly income of ten or fifteen dollars. Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine and oranges?
Once there, they discover that sunshine isn’t enough. They get tired of oranges…They don’t know what to do with their time. They haven’t the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an occasional Iowa picnic? What else is there? They watch the waves come in at Venice. There wasn’t any ocean where most of them came from, but after you’ve seen one wave, you’ve seen them all. The same is true of the airplanes at Glendale. If only a plane would crash once in a while so that they could watch the passengers being consumed in a ‘holocaust of flame,’ as the newspapers put it. But the planes never crash.
Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.
Though this is a description of a crowd particular to a date and place, I found this passage summarizes one of my greatest fears: to get to the last part of my life and say, "Is this all there is?"
I must admit, the fear of regret hangs heavy in my mind. Works of art exploring that theme are among my favorites: The Great Gatsby, Brokeback Mountain, The Death of Ivan Ilych, Walden. In fact, Walden provides a wonderful counterpoint to the previous passage:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
I realize most of us live somewhere in the area between these two extremes, between resignation and determination, between apathy and passion, but I hope that the decisions I make bring me closer the latter than the former.