Friday, February 4, 2011

Like So Much Straw...

"To do nothing is to be nothing."

We read the above from a fortune cookie after eating a steaming bowel of pho on an icy cold day.

We think there is wisdom in it… though the message we take is not likely what the author intended.

Surely, the author meant to whip you into action. No one wants to be nothing. Instead, you must do something and make something of yourself. You should be out striving, making, building, doing things. Think of those silly posters with eagles and mountains and cyclists that cheer you on. Courage! Determination! Achievement!

You are not supposed to be a happy rock, sitting there watching the world go by, with no purpose and no goal. You are not allowed to get drunk drinking wine under moonlit skies laughing at the absurdity of life. No, no no!

Oh, but nothing is the way of the world, though we pretend otherwise. We recall a few lines of poetry from the great Charles Bukowski:

“NOTHING. sitting in a cafĂ© having breakfast. NOTHING. the waitress,

and the people eating. the traffic runs by. doesn’t matter what

Napoleon did, what Plato said. Turgenev could have been a fly.

we are worn –

down, hope stamped out. we reach for coffee cups like the

robots about

to replace us”

We are nothing no matter what we do. It seems more and more people come to that realization too late... like on their deathbed.

We have taken what some might call a morbid interest in the last words spoken by people on their deathbed.

There they lay. Their bodies broken. Life draining away. The mind knows there will be no tomorrow.

And perhaps, we like to think, at that moment, the mind’s eye sees with clarity such that it has never experienced before. On that day, on that hour, the last day and the last hour, with the reflection of a life spent flashing before it... It is then, maybe, that the dying pour one last glass of distilled wisdom for us all to sample.

Thomas Aquinas… scholar, philosopher, theologian. He wrote much in his life. And upon his deathbed, Thomas Aquinas gave us his last glass:

“All I have written now seems to me like so much straw.”


  1. Reminds me of a passage from the uber-enlightening documentary "Amongst White Clouds." A hermit shares: "Why are people in this world so busy? Just for this one breath . . . they say 'busy, busy, mine, mine' . . . busy a whole lifetime for 'Me.' When this breath is cut off, you let go of the whole universe . . . why not let go from the start?"

  2. I remember reading a different interpretation of Aquinas last words. The interpretation was that he became a mystic in the end and repudiated his rationalistic writing

  3. Inigo and Rick--

    Could you please share the full poem (or title and source) of the Bukowski poem in this post? I'm a Bukowski fan and have never come across this one . . . I'd like to read it in its entirely.



  4. BSH, check out "sunny side down" in the collection "You Get So Alone..."


  5. Also, re: the documentary "Amongst the White Clouds"... You can watch it here:

  6. Thank you for the Bukowski source :)


  7. *One* post in February? Absurd!

  8. Turns out February wasn't too absurd . . .

  9. (AP)--The world is officially no longer absurd.

  10. I remember reading a different interpretation of Aquinas last words. The interpretation was that he became a mystic in the end and repudiated his rationalistic writing...

    It was not a repudiation exactly, but how small it was compared to God... but you are correct: his rationalism was small compared to God...

    And your interpration is basically correct.