We moderns are a spoiled lot. At least, I am.
As I write, I’m sitting in the Salt Lake Airport waiting to board a flight to Helsinki, Finland, by way of Amsterdam. It’s going to take me several hours, during which time I’ll be sitting almost the whole way.
I’m dreading it.
I won’t be sleeping in steerage with a hundred other passengers. The food will passable, if not altogether great. We won’t be facing day after day of North Atlantic storms. We probably won’t hit an iceberg and sink. Barring catastrophe, the odds of my arriving safely and in good health are excellent. Moreover, while I’ll be based in Finland, I’ll also make a fairly quick trip to Estonia. I’ll be back home in the western United States, if all goes according to plan, sometime relatively early on Wednesday.
I’ll very likely enjoy myself.
Still, right now, as is usual with me on such trips (even when they’re for vacations, which this one is not), I’m wondering what on earth I’m doing. I never enjoy the prospect of long flights. But I sometimes think to myself, “What would my ancestors say? Wouldn’t they consider me a wimp?”
I wonder what they would make of the comfort in which we live, of the speed with which we travel, of the variety of foods and cuisines that we routinely enjoy (if we’re so inclined). It would have seemed miraculous to them. I’ll be able to keep in almost instantaneous contact with my wife and family and with others, when I want to do so. By contrast, when my paternal grandmother left her home in Norway at the age of eighteen – not terribly far from Finland, really – she never saw her parents or most of her siblings again, and such communication as there was took weeks, at best.
Curiously – and I don’t mean to minimize the gravity of the matter, nor to make light of or dismiss very real pain – our rates of suicide and depression seem to be exceptionally high and, in some cases, rising precipitously. Here we are, the most comfortable, most pampered, most mobile population in human history, and many are unhappy. Many are angry. There is, I think, a lesson to be learned from that. There are probably several lessons to be taken from it. Very obviously, material comfort, while desirable, isn’t enough. Abundant food, while necessary, isn’t sufficient. Something else is needed.
Postscript: Owing to internet difficulties in the Salt Lake Airport – nobody else seems to have been experiencing them, but I certainly was – I wrote the above but couldn’t post it there. As it turns out, I did make it to Europe.
Posted from Amsterdam, The Netherlands