Seneca And The Season (featuring Maya Angelou)

Many Edmontonians complain about the meanness of our city, because we are convinced that we are born for a brief span of summer, and because that spell of the fair season that has been given to us rushes by so swiftly and rapidly that with very few exceptions it ceases for many of us just when we are getting ready for it.

Okay, yes, that's more Seneca from On The Shortness of Life re-keyed for life in Edmonton around this time of year than it is me, but when (your imagination is) in Rome, blog as the Romans do.

Seneca is good to read at this time of year. Actually, Seneca should be required reading at this time of year, this dripping time of year. September in Edmonton drips leaves and it drips regret.

In small talk we drip things like:

"Do you remember how it used to stay light until 11 and now it's so dark now? Kinda depressing."


"It is so cold in the morning these days. I mean, it was two degrees when I got up! Brutal."


"Closed up the sunroom today. Winter is on its way. So sad."

We drip in tweets and emoji, we are bombarded with conventional media drips who equate the end of summer with the end of good, we feign horror that in September the mornings start near zero, we apologize for bad weather when cyclists have to ride their bicycles through it, we dream of expensive escapes to sand and palm trees, and our enthusiasm drips and drips and then it freezes, and it freezes until it thaws in the spring. And the stoic Seneca would laugh at us for our wasteful ways, I believe.

Here, in a provoking passage from that essay written two millennia ago, Seneca explains how human beings keep getting it wrong, judging things by what lies in front of us that we can easily see and feel and grow indignant about, forgetting the bigger, harder-to-see picture.
Men do not let anyone seize their estates, and if there is the slightest dispute about their boundaries they rush to stones and arms; but they allow others to encroach on their lives -- why, they themselves even invite in those who will take over their lives. You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.
What can the elegant thoughts of the then-world's richest man who lounged in Mediterranean climes teach us about life in what some would have you believe is bleak and grey and cold and barren Edmonton?

Quite a bit, actually. Unlike some wine from Italy, those thoughts travel quite well.

Shelagh's snowdome
Seneca exhorts us in all he writes to clear the mental mechanism of gunk. To get a handle on things. To take seriously the thrilling fact that we are alive. And that we will die. And not quite that we will die, a proposition that is easier to accept than the real truth, which is that I will die and you will die.

So, don't waste your time. Of all the people who have ever been alive, who ever will be, of all the people, who might ever have been alive --  that imagined host as countless as Dawkins's sands of Arabia, or, re-keyed for winter in our city, the snowflakes of Edmonton-- but never were, we are the ones who, now, are alive.

It makes little sense to obsesses over a few degrees and a few feet of snow (if that even drops this year) when what requires some attention is the order of things. It makes no sense to listen to those who ask us to accept we can't do X here because there is snow on the ground for Y number of months of the year here.

I suspect that I will long for just one more of those complained-about winters! To ski, to walk, to hike, to watch snow gathering in the dark vault, to ride my bicycle, to cook a warm meal, to drink wine.

Or even to feel cold fingers on this side of the Great Divide.

Seneca teaches us that we can't wait for the supposed perfect time to take on the swift passage of time and the sureness of death. Edmonton right now is a good enough place to start.

Let's do what we can to help each other not drip it all away. It is not the looming season that is our fate.

Or, as Maya Angelou has cast the challenge for contemporary ears:

There were people who went to sleep last night,
poor and rich and black and white and black,
but they will never wake again.
And those dead folks would give anything at all
for just five minutes of this weather
or ten minutes of plowing.
So you watch yourself about complaining.
What you're supposed to do
when you don't like a thing is change it.
If you can't change it,
change the way you think about it.


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