The big picture is that we are flying through space on a large rock. And while here, as a species, we come and go, generation after generation like fruit flies in a biology lab. Individually, we are each completely unique, yet we have at least one thing in common. We all pass, having a total duration typically less than 100 summers, as defined by how our rock circles a much bigger rock that happens to be completely on fire. Fortunately, our rock is only on fire on the inside.
Strangely, for such a short cameo, we spend much of our time laying claim to small sections of the rock – mostly the outer, cooler part, especially the dry part – and call it our very own. This is mine – my part of the rock.1 It’s not that the rock cares, but apparently, we do.
Over time, we have managed to combine various parts of our extraordinary rock in special and ever-increasingly complex ways to construct tools and toys that make our lives easier – not simpler, but easier – and sometimes more interesting.
We also lay claim to these newly fashioned rock-parts. These assembled parts are mine. Accumulate. Hoard. This is my rock-stuff on my part of the rock. Keep your rock-stuff on your part and don’t take my rock-stuff.
To ensure there’s no confusion about what belongs to whom, and to dissuade theft, we fence off our individual and collective areas with a combination of rock bits that is particularly difficult to penetrate. Cleverly, we call this a “fence”, or a “wall” – the exact choice of wording here strangely depends on one’s political views.
Meanwhile, the accumulation of our rock-stuff burdens us by requiring an increasingly inordinate amount of our evanescent existence warding off the effects of entropy (the natural laws of deterioration and decay) as it acts on our rock bits and on us personally. More rocks, more maintenance. Because without maintenance, some of our rock-parts rust. Rust makes our stuff less shiny.
We know that none of us are immune to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”2 and thus readily recognize we will each, sooner or later, inevitably succumb to the next generation. The next group is tasked with carrying our genetic code and redistributing our rock-stuff, perhaps depositing much of it into large piles labeled unwanted rocks, just as we have disposed of some of the less shiny rock-stuff from those who came before us.
And so, as the sundial of our lives begins to cast a shadow to the east, we start to better understand Ecclesiastes, which so eluded us in our youth, the vanity of vanities, the chasing after the wind and the futility of amassing collections of rocks.
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