I went for another solitary afternoon walk today and discovered this small token of human affection attached to a lonely tree on the edge of some farmland in the hills not far from where I live. I’m not sure why anyone would leave this there, exposed to the elements and bound to suffer an inevitable and accelerated disassembly into material decay and dissolution, but there it was (and currently still is) – a message of human empathy abandoned like some raggedy scarecrow of love.
I am at first reminded of Arthur Stace who spent 35 years writing the word “Eternity” in copperplate script with chalk on the footpaths of Sydney. His own story was of a troubled youth, of poverty, of being an ex-soldier who had become an alcoholic and then found personal salvation in religious faith. His sidewalk calligraphy was a message of redemption.
Do we leave all of our actions in this world as so many transient gestures in an unknowing, uncaring Cosmos? It makes me wonder whether any action of compassion or aspirational redemption really means anything beyond itself. Could a sullen teddy bear slowly rotting in the semi-wilderness of a farmer’s paddock mean anything at all beyond the silent or playful symbol of some mischievous soul?
If life is to mean anything at all it is surely as it is lived and understood in the here and now. We might only ever be able to understand an implicit value of the present moment by virtue of what it is not, that is – the interminable and incomprehensibly vast abyss of all past and endless future time but it is precisely this plausible eternity of duration that inversely endows this fleeting moment of our life with such profound meaning and emotional substance.
The rarity of a thing identifies its value and this is no less (although probably more) true of our qualitative experience of existence than it is of any superficial economic principle. Perhaps these small and random, unexpected gestures or tokens of kindness and human compassion we occasionally find in the world (like this lonely teddy bear) carry another meaning.
If our lives have a tendency to feel as though we and everything we do are rendered as ultimately meaningless in the general tidal flow and effervescent absurdities of human history, as though everything we might ever do rapidly becomes just so much dust and fading memory – it seems to me that, again, and by inversion, the relative rarity of symbols and gestures or expressions of selflessly unproblematic or sincere love and compassion in a world for which these qualities remain serially and conspicuously absent, well – their value is then marked as truly priceless and beyond measure as against the inevitability of personal non-existence in all eternity.