Last week a friend of mine posted on Facebook looking for advice about their child’s fears about death. I have no particular insight into children and no advice suitable for them, but I instantly thought of what has become my usual response to worries of mortality: ‘What do we say to the God of Death? Not today.’ This is, of course, from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and thus may be a poor reflection on my philosophical depths, or (less cynically) a statement on the power that fantasy stories can have for us. It still really isn’t an idea to soothe a child.
It is, however, a way of thinking that has been very useful to me, even before I ever read Game of Thrones. In my struggles with addiction, I have often been faced with the idea of giving up something forever, of never doing it again, and that seems a daunting commitment. It seems impossible to say that one will never, ever waver. So, especially in the early days, I went with something simpler. I won’t give in to my addiction, today. And then the sun will set, and the sun will rise, and I will fight tomorrow’s battle tomorrow. Not today. It has been enough.
As I thought about that, about Syrio Forel’s maxim, and some of the other things there are out there to grapple with, and I really think it’s not a terrible way to confront a lot of them. For example – as you’ll know if you’ve read very much of this blog, I am deeply critical of my own writing and probably the single biggest obstacle to my productivity is my own doubt about whether or not my work is any good. I suppose a really optimistic reaction would be to say that I will never stop working and that I will have a steady upwards trajectory towards my goals from here on. The trouble is, it’s hard to make myself believe that. On the other hand: ‘When will I give up on writing? Not today’ works pretty well.
When will I give in to some of my other issues that make me want to quit on the world entirely? Not today, at least.
When will we listen to all those voices that tell us we can’t do it, don’t deserve it, shouldn’t try and aren’t worthy?
There are a lot of problems and opposition out there that might tempt us to give up the struggle and surrender, especially if we know that we might have to put up with them for a long time: say, at least four years. If it’s too hard, don’t try to tackle the whole four years. When will we stop the fight? Not today. And the sun will set, and the sun will rise, and we’ll fight tomorrow’s battle tomorrow.
In the end I’m not sure if this is a deeply pessimistic way of looking at things, or an optimistic one. I know that for me it works, and although this is now veering dangerously close to advice, perhaps it may serve some of you as well.
When is it time to quit?
In the end, I think it’s hopeful.
Thanks for reading.