“It is common in our day, as it has been in many other periods of the world’s history, to suppose that those among us who are wise have seen through all the enthusiasms of earlier times and have become aware that there is nothing left to live for.”– Bertrand Russell
The quote above is from an old paperback copy of “The Conquest of Happiness” by Bertrand Russell. 3rd printing, 1955. At least that’s what it says on the inside sleeve. I have a feeling it isn’t nearly that old, but it’s at least my age. Now that I think about it, that book and I have a lot in common. For one thing, I’ve heard it said on several occasions that I don’t look as old as I am. I still identify as a dark haired man, though current pictures clearly show that only used to be the case. The Bertrand Russell book is all sorts of weird colors it probably didn’t used to be, but that’s part of its charm. And even though the cover is coming off, it’s still doing a decent job of keeping its contents in place. — I feel the same way in a bathing suit — The price on its cover is 35 cents, which was probably a respectable figure in its day, and I don’t doubt that a hard bound Ayn Rand from the same period would have been a little smitten.
“Hey there. I’m The Conquest of Happiness. How you doin?”
Atlas Shrugged. But only because she knew her friends would make fun of her for smiling.
What strikes me most about this book is the fact that whoever owned it before me seems to have read only about half of it. Of the short 140 pages, the frequent underlinings of passages stop at page 57 under the heading The Sense Of Sin: “Conscience has ceased to be something mysterious which, because it was mysterious, could be regarded as the voice of God.” Reading a little deeper, Russell is suggesting here that psychoanalysis (at that time) was beginning to explain away the necessity of God’s presence in the average human mind. There isn’t even a slight possibility that I’m going to attempt a stab at that can of worms right now, but even on the surface… that’s deep as hell.
To tell you the truth, as much as I appreciate a good gymnastics routine, my brain just ain’t the place for that tonight. And it’s beside the following point…
We can assume a lot by how old something or someone looks. Me with my salt and pepper hair, or the failing reliability of my B. Russell book. But we cannot know by first impressions how far into the story something or someone has gotten. It does not serve us well to assume one has “seen through all the enthusiasms” life has to offer simply because their frame is rough around the edges.
It might look like an old ass book, but that doesn’t mean the world is done reading.
I can attest to that, because I’m 46-years-old and just getting started! The other night my wife humorously proposed that our recent fascination with all things deep and spiritual might make a good movie called Midlife Crisis (Okay, that isn’t entirely true. We were watching a movie and she flat out said we were sharing a midlife crisis. But why quibble?), and that’s a pretty awesome idea. Who knows how many people a Judd Apatow directed film about our lives starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd with music by Ben Folds could inspire?!! Millions! All because we started going to church more often and reading books instead of scrolling social media? Sounds like a win to me. But the title could use some work.