What was done to him was like what happens on the train, when you think you are moving forward, but are moving backward, and suddenly find out the real direction.
"Yes, it was all not right," he said to himself, "but never mind. I can, I can do 'right.' But what is 'right'?" he asked himself and suddenly grew still.
--from The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Pascal and weariness
Let me illustrate one of Pascal’s “thoughts.”
First, here it is:
The weariness which is felt by us in leaving pursuits to which we are attached. A man dwells at home with pleasure; but if he sees a woman who charms him, or if he enjoys himself in play for five or six days, he is miserable if he returns to his former way of life. Nothing is more common than that.
I think we can all think of really good examples of what Pascal is talking about here. As he says, boldly (but I don’t think mistakenly), “nothing is more common.”
However, I want to draw attention to the word “weariness.” The “weariness” we feel in leaving pursuits to which we are attached. When I was coming back to L.A. after being home for a week, I felt this weariness in the airport. It was inexplicable to me. It didn’t make sense. In fact, I was sad to leave L.A. the week before, and strangely depressed the first day being home. Why shouldn’t I be happy to return where I had been — and fairly happy — just 6 days ago? Of course, I have always admitted having a very difficult time with transitions. And my mind simply cannot keep up when my body jumps coasts.
So I was sitting in the airport on standby. The official told me it was very likely I would not get on the flight. However, after loading everyone on the plane, there was one person missing. The official was in a state of mild anxiety, as she wanted to get me on the plane, but she wanted the other person not to miss her flight as well. She called for the person over the loud-speaker 3 or 4 times, up to the very last minute, all the while looking over at me with gleaming, anguished eyes. She was awfully excited.
I found myself in a state of utter apathy. I just didn’t care if I got on the plane or I didn’t. I didn’t care if I had to wait at the airport all day. I didn’t care if I would be at my destination on time. I was just feeling — well, as Pascal describes it — weary. I even wanted to care. I felt bad that I did not care. I wanted to care, especially because the official cared so much. I tried to meet her excitement when she told me to come on board. I faked a smile and said “thank you.” And then I thanked God. But I didn’t feel joy. Nor despair. Something more like a neutral nothingness, in which I had relinquished all my attachments in stoic resolve.