“There is nothing which Fortune does not dare,’ warned Seneca.
Understanding this ahead of time should make us both suspicious of success and gentle on ourselves around failure. In every sense, much of what we get, we don’t deserve.
The task of the wise person is therefore never to believe in the gifts of fortune: fame, money, power, love, health – these are never our own. Our grip on them must at all times be light and deeply wary.”
Why is fortune capitalized in this excerpt? During Seneca’s time the goddess Fortuna was a profound metaphor for one’s fate in life. In my opinion, almost as profound as the book of Ecclesiastes in the old testament. Why? Well the goddess Fortuna was represented as a figure with two hands: one was holding money, love, and goods and in the other hand she was holding a tiller (for changing the course of life.) Therefore, the goddess Fortuna was a great representation of destiny – she could bless you with your dream job, the school of your choice, and many riches – but in the next moment offer you the family you love killed in a fire you had the witness. Or watch you choke to death on a fish bone. I think this idea of being very wary of this fickle bitch is pretty incredible. The notion that in every sense, much of what we get, we don’t deserve. In other words, “There is nothing that Fortune does not dare.”
We don’t get taught this shit in school, or by anyone for that matter. No one prioritizes emotional education. In fact, we ALL are in desperate need of an emotional education. Well, especially everyone reading this who is not a widow, because we have had to go through the emotional education as a matter of necessity. Think about it for a second – we go to school to be taught the subjects such as math, science, grammar, etc in order to morph into “prepared” adults ready for the real world. We are taught about the “practical” sides of life- but we are offered nothing to help us figure out WHY we should even entertain or endure life. WHY we are presented suffering? How should we process grief? Tragedy? Existentialism? What is happiness? What is the point of all of this? There is no point in learning the former, without any ability to investigate the latter. Because we are not taught how to process and sit with these thoughts that should* keep everyone up at 4 AM we just learn to ignore and suppress them and not question anything. No wonder people say stupid shit to widows like “Oh, they would want you to be happy!” Jesus christ, does this not bother you? Does anyone feel the indignation I do that we are all robbed of this? It took a tragedy – the worst tragedy one could face, to walk in and see the dead corpse of your young incredible partner of 27 years old while you are only 25 yourself. It took a tragedy – that Fortuna bitch and her tiller- for me to come to terms with the ultimate suffering we all experience, to somehow have a negotiation with my depression and my love – my empathy and self loathing. Which honestly – makes life a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable. If we realize all of us will suffer/ are suffering / or disguising suffering – it is easy to walk up to someone and tell them they look beautiful. Or to make a fool of yourself. Or to write this blog telling my truth. Or to tell an uber driver they are really good looking. “How often do you have sex?” Lol. Yeah, I did that once – just to see what he would say. Ended up being an entertaining as hell conversation – and I asked in an Uber Pool (so I allowed others my age to see someone being vulnerable and they joined in and laughed authentically – we ended up all going out for drinks, four total strangers – that is how life should be. ) Man that drive was one for the books, but – I did that because I realize we are all suffering – and in that way, a gentleness envelopes my soul when I interact with other people. How could you not? How could you be upset about trivial things like waiting in line for a coffee when you could be seconds away from tragedy? Albeit you could also be seconds away from good fortune, but – you must always keep in mind these words “There is nothing that Fortune does not dare.”
However – most people (as a result of our rigid prioritization of work, school, work work work, nice cars, nice house, nice shoes, etc etc) are brainwashed into thinking that is the only thing that matters. Our parents don’t prepare us – not because they are bad people but because they simply can’t. They love us too much to provide the guidance one needs to self investigate the cruelty of life. They also want to soothe the pain for us – and that is only natural – but the reality is: the type of “it will all be ok” type of thinking we initially get from our parents only leads to escapism later in life (if we do not face the truth): drugs, shopping, drinking, gambling, ignoring, eating, lying, social media, scrolling, scrolling, shopping, baking, baking, cooking, cooking, work, work, etc etc etc. And I do not have some kind of moral judgment on people who cope in this way – do whatever the fuck you want – BUT, do not kid yourself that you are “happy” or judge someone else’s happiness when you have not embraced the fundamental truth you are running from – that life is full of suffering – but once you do, it frees you from the anxiety, stress, and fucking cruelty of it all. Sit with that discomfort. Right now. Seriously, stop reading this if you have to. Don’t go binge a Netflix show or scroll Tiktok or whatever your vice is – yes, I do ALL of those things I just mentioned – but I ALSO give myself isolation and long periods of having uncomfortable thoughts, and sitting with them.
When you enter a party – instead of asking “So, what do you do?” which the answer will ultimately cause an instant judgment no matter what it is, ask “What keeps you up late at night?”, “in which ways are you suffering?” “Do you ever resent your children for taking so much of your life away?” I promise you it will be offering a source of comfort to someone else. And you might even make a genuine friend. Instead of someone who likes you because you are a Doctor, or Lawyer, or some other bullshit that does not matter. You will not go to the grave with people thanking you for offering platitudes at dinner parties. Why does it comfort us to know of someone else’s neurosis or anxiety or suffering – as well as their vulnerability, weird sexual desires, or embarrassing moments? Because people are not that unique. We all are facing the same fate – the only difference is that OTHER PEOPLE ONLY PRESENT THE VERSION OF THEIR LIFE AND THEMSELVES THEY WANT YOU TO SEE. We actually have to feel the shit ourselves – so we feel “weird” or “crazy” when actually – you are pretty basic. Just very emotionally immature, and never given the tools to exercise those muscles. And the weird thing is – everyone is trying to escape the feeling of sadness and loneliness by not thinking about suffering, when the reality is – once you make friends with this reality, you actually become MUCH happier. I have moments of intense happiness (alongside intense depression) because I have had these conversations with myself about the agony of existence.
I often asked myself why the first reaction of people after/during/ and while I have lived with Jacob after he died is “It will be OK, I promise!” Like – first off: insulting as fuck. I lost this 27 year old brilliant writer- the man of my dreams that I have known since I was like 10… and you are telling me you KNOW that everything will be ok? In the same way you knew Jacob would die? Damn, I wish you would have told me earlier. I get I get it, ” they had good intentions” – but stop with that emotionally immature nonsense. We need to demand more. Instead of saying “It will be ok! Cheer up! Etc” really we need to come to terms with the very worst of possibilities. Anxiety flourishes in the gap between what we FEAR might happen and what we HOPE could happen. The larger the gap… the worse this whole “cheer up strategy” becomes. And it just sucks. It is not comforting for the one saying it or the one receiving it. Who are you saying it for? You are blindly following the words people have taught you to say.
In fact, the Stoics (like Seneca) argued it was much more kind to crush every last vestige of hope rather than soothe ourselves with sunny tales – “It is far better to courageously come to terms with the very worst possibilities – and then make ourselves entirely at home with them. When we look our fears in the face and imagine what life might be like if they came true, we stand to come to a crucial realization: we will cope. ” Or…. not. Stoics were actually firm believers in suicide. Because, they understood that the cards get dealt so unequally- and some of us will not be able to cope. It will be too much pain. Much like someone barely breathing in the hospital. This is not a “pro suicide” post – don’t let your silly mind tell yourself I am so naive that I would think “Oh look! The Stoics were pro – suicide, see! see!” No… it is just a perspective that is validating. That is comforting. That a whole movement of thinkers understood that sometimes the suffering is so unequally dispersed it should be seen with empathy/understanding and not shamed that a person might choose to end their life, their suffering.
I wish we taught this stuff. I wish I knew more of this before Jacob died. But – suffering is the great equalizer, and it is really shitty that the only people that end of having empathy of any kind are people who have gone through tragedies. Intense intense anguish. Teaching this kind of thinking alongside the current school subjects (you know – educating our children on the ways to have a happy life – not this “happy life” they sell in self-help books. No, no. Not this utopian world that says “Turn your life around in 10 days” or “I am a badass, and I know it!” Etc, etc.) No – I mean emotional education on how we come to terms with our own mortality and the fundamental truth that we are all alone. The importance of friendship and empathy in the face of suffering. The importance of laughter. The acceptance of all emotions no matter how excruciating. Even if you stay in a relationship because you fear dying alone… or fear being single because you do not want to be alone…the liberating truth is – we are ALREADY ALONE. No matter who we are with. So, that is a fantasy you are telling yourself. I would argue that unless you are happy in your own company – and let this truth liberate you – you cannot really go on to have a meaningful romantic relationship.
Again – I always have to make this point – people see a loved one in physical pain and when they die often say “at least they are not in pain anymore” but people with severe mental illness who are in such daily pain and horror get told “don’t be selfish. don’t think like that. Insert stupid narrow minded remark here.” Why? Whyyyyyyy? Because you cannot see it? Yes. Exactly.
If you are someone who thinks they have a happy life or rather, a good perspective on life- you might benefit from taking a look into the inevitable ways you will suffer – and making peace with it. Starting every day knowing that Fortuna could give you success or fuck you over big time – and that should actually make you CALM in times of crisis instead of angry. Anger is after all just an emotion from someone who is really emotionally immature (as Jacob said many times.) Most people that insist on this “be happy” “be positive” “I am happy!!!!” are the most unhappy of them all – because they are fighting facing the dark universal truth – and unless you have that confrontation with those thoughts, you can never truly be happy.