I’m thinking tonight about a poem by Wendell Berry called “The Peace of Wild Things.” He writes how “When despair for the world grows in me” he goes into nature, where “I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief.” Brilliant line. Taxing our lives with forethought of grief is exactly what we do. Why do we do this to ourselves? Because of imagination.
Imagination is perhaps the greatest ability we have. It’s an important part of what makes us human. It allows us to invent, to empathize, to improve our lives in countless ways. It allows us to invent make-believe worlds that are better than the one we live in, worlds of peace and justice, or worlds in which we are reunited with lost loved ones at death. Imagination can spur us to action and invention, or it can distract us with illusions.
And it can terrify and tax us. How much energy do we spend on bad things that we only imagine might happen, or on things that will happen sooner or later but which we can’t prevent no matter how much we worry about them?
Imagination is how we torment ourselves, and it’s why we can’t help but torment ourselves.
But would you give it up if you could? — just live in the moment like the wild animals, acting and reacting, but never wondering about things that are not, but which might be, if only?
Neither would I.