“Think by way of example on the times of Vespasian, and you’ll see all these things: marrying, raising children, falling ill, dying, wars, holiday feasts, commerce, farming, flattering, pretending, suspecting, scheming, praying that others die, grumbling over one’s lot, falling in love, amassing fortunes, lusting after office and power. Now that life of theirs is dead and gone… the times of Trajan, again the same…”MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 4.32
The sun comes up and goes down without end, day after day.
Meanwhile, humans continue to do all the things that encompass life — everything mentioned by Marcus Aurelius in The Daily Stoic’s quote today. And everything he forgot to mention as well.
Everything changes, always — but in a sense, you could also say that it’s always the same, this endless cycle of humanity. We are born, we grow, we learn. We cry and laugh, and sometimes we create new humans. And then we get old and die. It happens again and again.
Long after we are dust, forgotten to the winds of time, someone else will be doing the same thing. What seems so critically important to us now, will no longer matter at all to those who remain. The most important concerns of people’s daily lives thousands of years ago… well they no longer exist! We have our own worries and cares. And someday, those won’t matter anymore either.
Thousands of generations have come before us, and thousands and maybe millions more will come after us. The thoughts of my day seem important to me, but they’re truly just a drop in the ocean.
The ocean as metaphor
Once a week, my mother sends a short video of the ocean waves near her home. It’s very soothing, both in person and even just watching it on video.
Why is sitting in front of the ocean waves such a common pastime around the world? Why does everyone find it so calming, so introspective? Why do we feel so small when watching the tide ebb and flow?
It’s because we know intrinsically, whether we realize it or not, that the ocean waves have been crashing for hundreds of millions of years — long before humans existed. They’ve been lapping at shores for the entirety of our human existence, unconcerned with the comings and goings of great empires, wars, discoveries.
And we know, deep inside, that these waves will continue crashing again and again on these same shores, long after humans have disappeared from the Earth. They existed long before us, and will exist long after us. The perfect example of an endless cycle.