Edmund James Banfield (born in 1852) was a newspaper editor and had a part interest in the business. In 1897, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was on the verge of a nervous collapse. His doctors gave him one year to live, at most.
So, he resigned from the paper, sold his interest and sold many of possessions. He and his wife then moved to Dunk Island, off the northeast coast of Australia. There he expected to live out what was left of his days in relative peace and tranquility.
They built a temporary abode and raised a small garden. They enjoyed the leisure of the simple island life. In particular they enjoyed the natural wonders around them, the abundant and diverse plant and animal life.
Time was running out, though, like sand in an hour glass. Banfield knew his last day would arrive soon. But he was living the life he wanted to live and was happy, at peace with the world.
Then, of course, something unexpected happened. He got better. He winded up living 23 years on Dunk Island.
When death finally came in 1923, his wife commented, “I had no idea death could come so peacefully.”
We are fascinated by this idea of how a “deadline” affects people. As Bomstein wrote in his post about another man given a deadline on his life: “The certainty of death has granted him the luxury of living without worry, secure in the knowledge he will die soon and thus doesn't need to concern himself with long-term issues.”
And so we see it here again with Banfield. He was living a certain life, in which he was a frazzled newspaperman. But when told he had only a year left, he changed it completely. The certainty of death made him free in a way he wasn’t before – or rather, it made him free in a way he did not perceive was possible before.
Of course, we all have these same deadlines. We just don’t know what they are yet. And so why can’t we live just as free of worry and care as these men who know their deadlines?
Banfield was obviously a happy and contented man on Dunk Island. We have only read snippets of his stuff. Banfield is most famous for a book titled Confessions of a Beachcomber. We have not read this book, but we’ve ordered it. And we’ll report back should we find the absurd thoughts we suspect might lie in Banfield’s memoir.
But the point is, the absurd man ought to be able live with the same equanimity even though his deadline is a mystery (assuming he chooses not to set one himself). And this doesn’t mean he has to jump off to an island (though that option always tempts us). He can, in effect, create that island wherever he is by adhering to his easy-going “nothing matters” worldview and in his secure knowledge that his deadline will come soon enough.