From My Post Road Window / Nicholas Troilo
Published 12:01 pm, Thursday, May 12, 2011
Mark Twain's short story "The Five Boons of Life" has finally made sense to me. And it could not have come at a better time. My life is in turmoil right now -- lots of reasons -- and I am, (this is unusual for me) battling fits of depression.
Like everyone else, I've had short bouts with being depressed. I don't mean the sort of deep-rooted depression that needs clinical or medicinal attention. My past experiences with depression have been simple, brief moments. They were moments better characterized as disappointments or hints of sadness.
But this time around, I actually feel depressed. It is the sort of feeling that makes every task seem undoable. My energy is drained. I'd rather nap then head to the gym.
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I have a hard time making choices. And when I must choose: "Are you ready to order?" I choose but with regret. "I should have had the grilled tuna. I don't really want the salmon." I play with my food and leave most of it to take home. What is worse is that when I do make choices that I think are good for me, they turn out to be the wrong choice.
That's what happened on Sunday. I had to go to a brief meeting in Brooklyn, and I decided that it would be more economical to use public transportation than to drive. That, of course, is correct thinking.
But it made me realize that the car that I have on lease for another 34 months is a gas guzzler. On top of that it requires 93 percent Octane gas -- $4.79 a gallon these days. And it has a radio/navigation/telephone system too complicated to operate by technological instinct. I have to read the manual to learn its ins and outs. Depressing.
So it was the right financial decision to take the train -- round trip transportation cost = $14. That should have pleased me. But my brief meeting turned out to be 20 minutes brief, and that didn't please me. What I saved in my wallet I paid back in time. I took the 1:44 p.m. train; got to NYC at 2:38; walked to Bryant Park; waited for the F train; took the F train to York in Brooklyn; walked to Bridge Street; met; did a slight adjustment to the subway back to Grand Central; made the 5:07 back home; picked up at 6 p.m.; four hours shot. That is depressing.
And that's where Mark Twain comes in. During the 3-and-a-half hours of idle train time I elected not to read. I have two tomes on my current reading list: "Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times" and "The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics: Lessons From Japan's Great Recession." I didn't want to lug either of them So I sat idle and depressed and thought about Twain's short story "The Five Boons of Life." The story offers a young man the choice of five gifts that are all part of life: fame, love, riches, pleasure, death.
At Greenwich, I remembered that his first choice, pleasure, was short-lived, disappointing, vain and empty. Pleasure's correlative, Twain tells is, is pain.
At Rye, I remembered the second choice was love. Love's result was hours of happiness but "each hour of happiness brought a thousand hours of grief." Love's partner? Grief.
At New Rochelle, I thought about the third choice: fame. I was actually seeking fame that day at my Brooklyn meeting and I remembered that Twain tells us that fame can only lead to envy, detraction, bitterness and shame.
At 125th Street, the fourth choice came to mind: riches. Twain's take on riches is that it brings power which is always abused, and by and by we live with "gilded lies" until we meet riches' partner -- poverty. It always ends that way.
Grand Central Terminal left me with death. But who would see death as a gift of life? I wasn't -- am not -- as depressed as that. Instead, I wallowed in Twain's thought that seeking pleasure, love, fame and riches as the fulfillment of life would leave me simply with "the wanton insults of old age."
And suddenly, I wasn't depressed. I'm fine with that. I'm growing old and growing old has brought some turmoil to my life. Insults if you will. I'll take the insults of old age over death every time. I can manage insults, old age and even death. But when I'm ready, Mr. Twain. When I'm ready, thank you, Mr. Twain.