Old Man and Child

“…for at that rate…our desire would be empty and vain.”
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The insights of Aristotle never cease to amaze. Assiduously avoiding rash assumptions and unsupported conclusions, he nonetheless boldly makes claims that lesser minds would not dare assert.

A man of vast human experience, Aristotle cannot be accused of being naïve. He is well aware, for instance, that there will always be people ready to argue, from their own experience, that human life is nasty, brutish, and short.

How many of us have wondered at certain times whether there is some cruel power at work in the fact that we have such deep-seated desires for love, and relationship, and peace… desires that themselves cause agony when unfulfilled. Why is such suffering a regular accompaniment of the efforts of even the best of men?

Aristotle does not blush. He looks the problem square in the face. Even the worst cases of cruel twists of fate do not make him flinch. The deepest and truest of human desires are not in vain. There is a fulfillment, a happiness, in which they can be fulfilled; and it is within reach. An honest analysis of the data of human life should yield no other answer.

But some will refuse to be convinced. And perhaps even this can be for the good. Maybe their very desperation remains a clarion call for others to see anew the ever mysterious drama that is human life, the human endeavor to become ourselves.

Nay more: their agony is a call to enter into their suffering, to walk in their shoes. Then mysteriously, both of us might see once more, as never seen before, the astounding truth, that the deepest human desires, and consequent suffering, are not in vain.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher.

Image: by Albert Anker (1831-1910)
One might wonder: how does this image fit with this reflection? When I look at this painting I see an older man who has struggled to overcome his fear for this child, perhaps his grandson. He wonders in his heart: can this dear child endure what life has demanded that I endure? Will he have another person to be with him in his moments of agony, long after I am gone? Will he have the insight and the patience, and the love, to come to see: all will be well?

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