Thursday, August 29, 2019

August 29: Ultimate Question, Suffering and Love, Marriage

More on having dinner with white mice, discussing the Ultimate Question . . .

With a brief nod to the rest of the company he [Slartibartfast] turned and walked sadly out of the room

Arthur stared after him, not knowing what to say.

"Now," said Benjy mouse, "to business."

Ford and Zaphod clinked their glasses together.

"To business!" they said.

"I beg your pardon?" said Benjy.

Ford looked round.

"Sorry, I thought you were proposing a toast," he said.

The two mice scuttled impatiently around in their glass transports.  Finally they composed themselves, and Benjy moved forward to address Arthur.

"Now, Earth creature," he said, "the situation we have in effect is this.  We have, as you know, been more or less running your planet for the last ten million years in order to find this wretched thing called the Ultimate Question."

"Why?" said Arthur sharply.

"No--we already thought of that one," said Frankie, interrupting, "but it doesn't fit the answer.  Why?  Forty Two . . . you see, it doesn't work."

"No," said Arthur, "I mean, why have you been doing it?"

"Oh, I see," said Frankie.  "Well, eventually just habit I think, to be brutally honest.  And this is more or less the point--we're sick to the teeth with the whole thing, and the prospect of doing it all over again on account of those whinnet-ridden Vogons quite frankly gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies, you know what I mean?  It was by the merest  lucky chance that Benjy and I finished our particular job and left the planet early for a quick holiday, and have since manipulated our way back to Magrathea by the good offices of your friends."

"Magrathea is a gateway back to our own dimension," put in Benjy.

"Since when," continued his murine colleague, "we have had an offer of a quite enormously fat contract to do the 5D chat show and lecture circuit back in our own dimensional neck of the woods, and we're very much inclined to take it."

"I would, wouldn't you, Ford?" said Zaphod promptingly.

"Oh yes," said Ford, "jump at it, lake a shot."

Arthur glanced at them, wondering what all this was leading up to.

"But we've got to have product, you see," said Frankie.  "I mean, ideally we still need the Ultimate Question in some form or other."

Zaphod leaned forward to Arthur.

"You see," he said, "if they're just sitting there in the studio looking very relaxed and, you know, just mentioning that they happen to know the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, and then eventually have to admit that in fact it's Forty-two, then the show's probably quite short.  No follow-up, you see."

"We have to have something that sounds good," said Benjy.

"Something that sounds good?" exclaimed Arthur.  "An Ultimate Question that sounds good?  From a couple mice?"

The mice bristled.

I think we all go through our days asking questions.  What am I going to have for breakfast?  What idiotic thing did Donald Trump tweet this morning?  Should I pack the leftover pizza for lunch?  Why am I so tired?  Is my car going to start?  Like I said, each 24-hour period is just a series of questions in search of answers.

Most daily questions are small, inconsequential.  For example, I could answer the questions in the previous paragraph with the following 21 words:
1.  Life cereal.
2.  I don't care.
3.  The answer to pizza is always "yes."
4.  I stayed up way too late last night.
5.  Yes.

However, there are always the big questions, the ultimate questions, that are more difficult, perhaps even unanswerable.  These questions haunt us all.  What is the meaning of life?  Why do good people have to suffer?  What's love go to do with it?  (Okay, I stole that last one from Tina Turner.)  The answers to these questions are really impossible to discern without lapsing into subjective observations.  The meaning of my life, you see, is different than the meaning of your life.

The question that I've been wrestling a great deal with recently is about suffering and love.  I've been married for almost 25 years.  Those years have been filled with all kinds of joy and happiness.  The birth of children.  Wonderful trips (Hawaii, New York City, Walt Disney World, California).  Milestones (anniversaries, first days of school, last days of school, graduations, new jobs).  And simple quiet times of togetherness.

Of course, there have been struggles.  A lot of them.  Mental illness.  Money.  Addiction.  Suicides.  Deaths.  Health scares.  It's a very human thing, I think, to forget the good times and focus more on the bad times.  It would be amazing if all the days of marriage were like the first days of marriage, full of passion and surprise and sex and romance.  Marriage isn't like that, however.  To sustain that honeymoon state is impossible.

Instead, marriage is about how love matures into deep, abiding friendship and trust.  Passion is important, but, over the years, two shared lives settle into rhythms and cycles.  Out of necessity, routines emerge.  That's how everyone survives in this hectic world.  A person who thrives on chaos and turmoil will eventually flame out like a comet in the atmosphere.  That kind of existence simply isn't sustainable.  In fact, I would venture to say that it's unhealthy.

I believe in marriage.  It's a sacred thing--two people joining their lives, creating something that didn't exist before.  It's mysterious and beautiful and confounding and maddening and sustaining.  My wife knows me better than anyone else on this planet.  I think I can say the same for her.  She knows my weaknesses and fears.  I know her weaknesses and fears.  And it's in that knowing that marriage survives.

Sure, there are droughts in every marital union.  Boredom even.  Temptations.  Yet, at the end of the day, it's about knowing who you can count on when your life is at its lowest.  When depression sets in.  When bills are plentiful and money is scarce.  When the biopsy comes back positive.  That is when marriage is most important.  When it carries you through the dark valleys.

If you are in a relationship with someone you care about deeply, here is what you should do tonight, whether you've known each other five days or fifty years.  Look into that person's eyes.  Say how important she or he is to you.  Mean it with all your heart.  Count yourself lucky because you share your life with your best friend.

Saint Marty really does believe that love always wins in the end.

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