Friday, May 9, 2008

The owl flies at dusk

"The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk." -- Hegel

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Its a beautiful summer evening: clear sky, Dutch light at sunset, trees in full flower, 'just a breath of breeze. A month ago, I was celebrating the start of another year and a half of varied and delightful times like this -- how things change.

E-mails are arriving from friends across the company as the RIF proceeds: this could continue for weeks. The tea leaves aren't good. Experienced people are leaving this time around, and high-flyers are not getting called to their next assignments.

There is certainly a chance that I, too, could get swept out before this is over.

Tonight, though, I relax on the porch in the gathering twilight, listening to the neighbor's soft laughter drifting up from the garden, the distant swish of the fountains turned on in the park yesterday. It's been too long since I enjoyed the lovely peace of a late spring evening: could life get any better?

Could it? What if...not?

What if you knew for certain that life would never be better than it is at this moment? What would you do?

Robert Bloch explored this premise in That Hell-Bound Train, about a man given the power to stop time, once and forever, at life's peak moment. He always believed life could get better, and never twisted the watch stem until the end.

If it did all end, next month, how different would life be? What would I miss?

I laugh at the adolescent things that pop to mind: expat perks and office comforts with no parallel in the US. Most things, thank goodness, are more substantive: people, perspectives, travel, ideas, projects. Overall, I'd miss having the very good fortune to be able to live a life that is stimulating and consequential.

It's probably true for most people who seek out an expatriate immersion in an unfamiliar language and culture.

And, of course, these aren't things that I need to give up. A recall would trigger a decision, certainly short-term hardship and disruption. But it's still my decision, within my ability to choose among many possibilities.

Hegel believed that we learn the lessons of life's experiences only at their end. The trick now is to apply the learning to create even better new beginnings.

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