The Strivers

[Silvio, Henry, and Ezra are sitting together at a table in a kitchen.]

SILVIO: Every morning, I wake up and try to decide whether to get out of bed. The sun sends its light millions of miles just to slip through my blinds and try to penetrate my feeble eyelids. I wish I could send the light back where it came from, or convince it that it's not worth the trip just to wake me up.

HENRY: What kind of a way to start the day is that? Marone, you're doing it all wrong. Each day is a chance to find some new pleasure, a day for hunting and chasing... what is it they say? Wine, women, and song.

SILVIO: Earth's joys grow dim to me. When you have kissed one woman, it seems like you have more or less kissed them all. Is one set of lips different from any other? Or is a kiss from one woman today different from the way her kiss will be tomorrow? As for wine, people obsess about the minor gradations of subtle flavors. But I think it's all bloviating, and I don't care for the best of it anyway. Every experience gets so repetitive, and the sharpness of first experience is dulled with the deadening of age, making every orgy nothing more than a Sisyphean toil.

EZRA: You both have it wrong. Life is not entertainment, but rather work. If our tasks are Sisyphean, we should accept them, and be glad that by rolling a rock up a mountain, we can grow our muscles. By repeating an action, we can perfect it and make ourselves more perfect in the process. By doing something boring and painful, we prove that we are man enough to do our duties, and we become better men in the process. God did not make us to sunbathe and eat tapas. He made us to work and to strive.

SILVIO: Endless work is daunting, and I don't know where to begin. Should I learn a language, practice the piano, work long overtime hours, volunteer for a political campaign, study how to play chess, or just do push ups? I can scarcely convince myself that working hard on any of those will really be worth it, or that I could really be better than mediocre at any of them. And anyway, how do I know which thing to work on? There are too many choices, and some labors can make the world worse. Better inaction than the risk of damaging the cosmos.

[Zoe enters, holding steaks]

HENRY: You know what doesn't damage the cosmos? Good steaks. Zoe, are those the ones from Iowa that we bought?

ZOE: [smiling] Corn-fed Iowa beef, it doesn't get any better.

HENRY: [looking at Zoe, smiling to himself] No, it doesn't.

EZRA: [getting up and grabbing the steaks] I can take it from here Zoe. By the way, what is your opinion on life?

ZOE: Life? All of life? Could you be more specific?

EZRA: [chuckling] Is it worth it to get out of bed in the morning?

ZOE: Still not specific enough. I think it's dangerous to try to answer that question abstractly. For me, every morning I can answer the question only for that particular day. Each day has its own delights and challenges that make it uniquely worthwhile. Today, I motivated myself to get out of bed because I knew that I could eat steaks with friends. On another day, I might get out of bed to chat with a friend or help a neighbor or go to a museum or finish an assignment. There is no philosophical unity to these justifications, but individually each is enough for the day when it comes.

SILVIO: Like Jesus said, "Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof."

ZOE: [laughing] Yes, but exactly the opposite. Sufficient to every day is the joy thereof. Don't imagine a need to justify every day in some cogent way, but just think 12 hours ahead, of one good thing that's slightly better than oblivion. The world is big and wondrous enough to find something like that every day.

HENRY: Zoe modestly claims that to have no philosophical pretensions, but I can see a philosophy...underneath. For one thing, Zoe mentioned friends, which none of us lunkheads thought of as a reason to face each new day. If I had a glass of wine, I would toast to Zoe, and to good friends, and to friendship as a reason to live!

SILVIO: It always comes back to wine with you Henry. But to live for friends seems like it gets circular, doesn't it? If you are living for friends, are they living for you? Why should any of us get out of bed, if the only reason to get out of bed is to give someone else a reason to get out of bed? It's comfortable enough in bed...

HENRY: True.

SILVIO: and it all seems so empty to just while away hours with friends for all of eternity, and anyway what about the people who don't have friends? Apparently the surveys are showing that there are more and more of those people these days, and how should we justify life to them if they have been unable to form friendships?

EZRA: Sil, dude, don't overthink it. Can you help me put the seasoning on these? [gestures to the steaks]

HENRY: You two worker bees go ahead. I will eschew the work for the much more important work called play. Zoe, a dance! [he grabs Zoe by the waist as she giggles] Come do a cha-cha with me, or a foxtrot or something.

ZOE: [playfully reluctant] Henry, where did this come from?

HENRY: I am trying to bring some joy into my day, and into everyone's day!

EZRA: Sil, just ignore him. Zoe, did you bring these mashed potatoes? They look amazing!

ZOE: [talking to the rhythm of Henry's dance music] Yeah, I made them as sides for our steaks.

HENRY: I can smell them. They will go wonderfully with the steak! Another delight to the senses for another day that God has made for us! It's all worth it!

EZRA: More purifying work: to prepare the steaks, to perfect the culinary art, to labor lovingly out of duty and out of aspiration. Of course this is worth all the struggle.

SILVIO: I feel convinced at least about today. This experience made me feel like at least one more day was worth living: for friends, for the sensations of taste and smell and sound, for some work, and for a conversation.

ZOE: [taking a break from dancing] John Milton said that a pleasant conversation is the best part of a loving relationship. A conversation combines everything we've discussed that makes a day worthwhile: the work of learning what to say and saying it right, the sensation of discovery and insight during a fruitful conversation, and the friendship that is crystallized and polished during it. For work, for sensation, for conversation, and for love, each day is worth it.


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