The Incremental Life

I find that a foundational problem in the vast majority of the population is the error of leading an incremental life. It has become a trite triviality (the duality of concepts taken together is intended; ‘trite’, because it is a common banality; trivial, because it is next to insignificant; together, to convey the idea that it is both widespread and unimportant) to note that the young live for the here and now; that there is no longer a sense of having to pay one’s dues; that as youth is idolized, so the young must be allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor here and now (without, as it turns out, much effort needed to be expended on the ‘labor’ side of the equation) – (as you can see, I am attempting to define such trite triviality by circling back and utilizing trite and trivial concepts to define itself); and that as youth is defined by and as the ‘beautiful people’, and physical attractiveness is the penultimate value of life, the telos from birth, the eudaimonia of this century — so it must be lived within an incremental life, or not at all.

The incremental life is a life of episodic living. It is a life which is described by Heidegger in Being and Time – where the avoidance of an ontological encounter is accomplished through our projects; the encounter with nothingness, which is the direct route to encountering Being, is avoided by immersion into distracting projects – of work, of leisure activities, and even of drunks and degenerate pleasures. But the complex over time always gets reduced to the common denominator of the lowest quotient; the remainder, in its bare essence, is nothing more than human failure; and that is why we end up with a society overwhelmed by divorce (the final realization that the incremental life was never intended), suicide (the meaninglessness of physical attractiveness as a foundation of one’s life), and failure (not necessarily lack of financial success; rather, the goal of excellence in anything attempted, is simply never reached).

A man and his family sits in a Bob Evans Restaurant; he is surrounded by his beautiful family — an ensemble of boisterous daughters ranging from ages 3 – 13 – with his wife across and adjacent from his two eggs over-easy, three strips of bacon and hash browns, the one egg slightly broken with the yellow having seeped from its levy. His wife of 12 years (the incongruity requiring explanation is prayed never to be asked, and in those rare moments of terror, the world of morality is shaken and the sudden trembling of the world, tantamount to Atlas shrugging, by the innocent question which, in the company of delicate sensibilities, asked by the oldest child, whether with mischievous candor or ignorant naiveté, Mom, I was rummaging around in some of your papers, and how come your marriage certificate shows that I was born only 3 months after you were married? – resulting in a terror-stricken moment of silent looks askance as to intent, motive, truth, falsehood, cover-ups and flippant lies, or all of the above bundled into a shrug and a, Oh, you must have misread it, and a cold, harsh stare of daring to that first child you had brought into the world with such hope and love and expansive dreams, where the universe was a titillating challenge of eternal optimism, until one day you wake up with the angst of realizing that death and the unexpected vicissitudes of life require planning beyond the mere pleasures of a newborn gurgling of delightful and toothless smiles and shrieks of joy) sits with an outwardly calm demeanor to those who do not know her; but the husband/father/man with the seeping yellow plate of eggs does know her, and recognizes the subtle seethe beneath the exterior, that somehow dawn and the peace of morning quietude were no longer meant for her; that the life of daily drudgery meant that Heidegger was irrelevant, or always was; for who cared for a dead Philosopher who devoted his life to making complex the obvious; a Nazi sympathizer who violated his own code of academic categorical imperatives by compromising in order to ‘survive’, when in fact his moment of confronting the nothingness could have been met head on, with courage and principle, in order to attain the very spice of Being that he preached. Yes, the children – born of her flesh, the bond of mother to children, of all 6 daughters; but joy comes in moments of reflection; and to have the time to reflect upon one’s joy; for without that time, joy is but an episodic emotion, a feeling which bypasses fleetingly, and it is only when it is conjoined with reflection and time to reflect does it rise to the stature of joy.

And one day, while sitting at breakfast – with Jasmine barely acknowledging them; Karen sitting self-consciously; Lisa gorging herself; Maria shrieking; Nancy holding up her syrup-sticky hands up to the ceiling for inspection; and Olivia shrieking because that is the nature of a 3-year old; befuddled, the father asks himself, How did I arrive at this point? For it began with the episodic state of love; and when he had asked her father – his now father in-law, for permission to have her hand in marriage, her father had said to him: What are your future plans? At that moment, he had not stopped to reflect; instead, he blurted out a quick answer to satisfy the old man in order to fulfill his episodic state of love. “I plan to marry her and take care of her!” he declared boldly. The old man had smiled – almost a smirk – and shook his head slowly and deliberatively. “Yes, of course,” he had said quietly, “yes, of course.” And with a pause, the old man gave his blessing, but before that blessing, he had asked a peculiar question: “For what end?”

The father had never paused to answer that question.

Then, the incremental family came into being – of a child, then another, then another; and each one, in and of herself, each moment of birth was a time of joy, of an overwhelming intervening event; but with no time for reflection upon the previous event, and no amount of reflection upon a future event, each event was a momentary frame of joy, or an event, one might say; for to be consistent, inasmuch as no time was set aside for reflection, it never rose to a level of joy; merely an episodic moment of emotional consummation.

Life in increments. Each increment, an opportunity for reflection, to pause and reflect into the future; to know God’s plan and purpose; that each life has a teleological framework, and it is our responsibility to meditate, discern, and grasp that framework. We as rational beings, placed for a purpose and a specific goal within the framework of God’s plan, cannot be like “everyone else”. We who are “partakers of the divine nature” cannot merely be “tossed to and fro” as if we were unaware of the very purpose of our existence. Now, the father in Bob Evans Restaurant — that is not to say that he was not following God’s plan; that he was fully partaking of the divine plan may well be so; but let us hope that at some point in his life, he had indeed asked and answered the question, “For what end”? For a man who partakes of the divine nature must by necessity know three things: Who am I? (One’s identity) Why am I here? (One’s certainty of Being), and Where am I going? (One’s purpose for being). One who partakes in the divine nature cannot wake up one morning and decide that the incremental life he had been living heretofore is no longer one that he desires; but that is what an incremental life has the potential danger to end in. To partake in the divine nature means that we must break out beyond the boundaries of our present lives; to have a vision of where we want to go, and for what end; to live an incremental life, as the world around us, is to disregard the divine part of our nature.

For what end? To fulfill God’s plan; to guide and mentor our children; to set a course for our family with the full confidence that the changing and fickle storms which toss others to and fro will not impact us. In these uncertain times, it is all the more important to take the time to reflect. Actively, partake of God’s divine nature.

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