A Design For Life

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

The ‘Epicurean Epitaph’, a quote attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, often now used at humanist funerals.epicurus-3

I found myself thinking about this yesterday, prompted by a Facebook meme.

It doesn’t just apply to a way of looking at death. It can also be a way of looking at life.

The basis of Epicurus’ philosophy after all, his lifestyle and that of his friends and followers, was looking for the things that make us happy and then as much as possible having those things in our lives.

Not in Hedonism: self-indulgent and unrestrained behaviour – a common misunderstanding of his ideas – but more in a satisfaction with life: involving moderation, respect for others and friendship.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

This could just as much be about happiness as it is a way of coping with the concept of our mortality. We all have peaks and troughs in our lives. There are times when things seem to be going well, when we’re making progress, when we’ve achieved some of our goals and are looking to continue onwards.

There are other times when life seems bleak, when nothing seems to work, where everything is going wrong – even to the extent that we give up hope.

Basic needs like food & water, shelter, safety, health, relationships. Simply said – not so simply achieved! Certainly not all at once. Sometimes we seem to have them all; other times none of it!

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

‘A while back’ – I’m shocked sometimes when I think about just how long ago it was! – I was living and working in and around London, working in Finance.  I was “doing OK”, not great, but “OK”.

I met a girl, we moved in together. She was also “doing OK”. We went to restaurants, pubs and gigs: together and with friends. We travelled a lot. We moved to Brighton, then to Sutton Coldfield. We got married, then had children. Twins: Jake and Ellie. Great kids! Having been made redundant earlier I became their full time stay-at-home Dad: for 3 years, until they started pre-school in preparation for school proper. By this time we were here in Wales.

Now, 5 years later, we’re separated. I live alone, in a small house: fine just for me but nothing like our old family home. The children who were my life I see now just 2 days a week: most of 1 day on the weekend and 1 evening after school.  And to be honest I’ve struggled to pick up with my career where I left off. The industry is very tech-driven and seems to have moved on, irrespective of all my experience. My age counts against me too I think; having to start again as it were a lot of the jobs I am qualified for I think are taken by young people.

We had a big house, and a good lifestyle: travel, good food, fun. Now I sometimes struggle even with the basics. Then I spent nearly all my time with my beloved Jake & Ellie; now I often feel like I hardly know them, like they’re growing up without me.

It’s very easy to look back and think things were perfect though isn’t it? I know they weren’t, even then.

Further back –  in New Zealand, for instance, before I found my feet career-wise here – I sometimes struggled, financially and socially. Even after I moved to the U.K. there were difficult times: I got caught up in the mortgage interest rate crisis of the ‘90s, and leaving the somewhat extreme religious group I got mixed up in was necessary, but still difficult, not least as it meant cutting myself off from all my ‘friends’ & having to start again socially.

“I was not; I have been; I am not; I do not mind.”

I had tough times before, some good times, and now difficult times again. Life has its ups and downs. It’s just a question of perspective isn’t it? I’m trying to be grateful for what I do have. Great children who love me, food & shelter, safety, reasonably good health, friendships.

That’s more than millions of people all over the world can say. In many ways I’m lucky, despite what the reality of my life seems to be a lot of the time.

“I had not; I did have; I do not have; I do not mind”

I’m trying very hard to improve the things I can, while learning to accept and make the most of life as it is.

Thank you Epicurus: those are indeed wise words.


What Happened When the Humanist Went to Church

I took the kids to Church today!

Seeing as I’m not at all religious – if pressed for a label I’d call myself a Humanist – this is quite unusual.

Don’t worry though; I’m not about to go banging on doors telling you that you’ll burn to death in Hell forever if you don’t give yourself to Jaysus.

We’ve started taking Jallie to a playgroup run by a local church, & they love it! There are some fantastic toys there – a mini kitchen, a sandbox, lots of cars / bikes they can zoom around in -&  lots of other parents with children of varying sizes & abilities. There’s even free toast & tea & coffee!

About halfway through all the kids sit down around a little table for drinks & biccies: it’s so strange seeing Jake & Ellie sitting there so quietly, eating like little adults, as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world! They seem really chuffed about it too.

There’s usually an activity, mainly for the older children: picking out leaves from different trees outside, learning how to plant seeds, etc.

It seems to be run on a voluntary basis by church people, & they only ask for a minimal donation each time.

I tend to be pretty negative about religion; when you look at the deep corruption, viciousness & intolerance that seems to be inherent in the larger, more dogmatic versions – paedophile priests being protected  in the name of God,  holy wars, etc. etc. ad nauseum – it’s easy to be that way.

But these people are just nice, generous, giving something back to their community. It’s reminded me  – not that I should need it, as I walk past a Sally Army charity shop nearly every day – that much good can come out of religion along with the great evil. It’s been suggested to me that religion is more of a catalyst than a cause, & that may well be true.

Not that they care: they just like getting to run around & have fun! And the biccies, of course…

If only all of life were that simple, eh?