My greatest of the temporal consolations (let’s leave the Divine out of the equation for now) is not a lovely garden or a good book or a warm cup of tea or a Slurpee or playing ‘guess the Emperor’. The greatest consolation I have in this life, that I can touch, hold, and see, is my lovely wife.
I left her in a train station in Stuttgart this morning. She is safely in Edinburgh now. We had a fantastic ten days together — reading together, walking around Tübingen together, visiting Heidelberg together, then seeing my cousin in Mosbach together, eating together, eating ice cream together, eating cake together, eating Schnitzel together, being together. After almost two months part, it was really wonderful to be together.
And I’m happier now than I was ten or so days ago, because the effect she has on me is more long-lasting than simply when she’s just around.
Yet I am, nevertheless, back in my undergrad accommodation in Tübingen. Things are eerily quiet right now; I should probably get to bed in a bit to exploit the fact! Anyway, you know the situation from earlier posts, and especially if we’re friends on Facebook. Not my favourite.
After leaving the lovely Jennifer at the train, I visited the Landesmuseum Württemberg in Stuttgart and read some Seneca. And here’s where the title gets relevant.
Letter 28 (Book III.7) of Seneca’s correspondence to Lucilius is about the fact that Lucilius will never shake off his sadness and depression and learn contentment by changing his location. The problem, says Seneca, is not where you are but, in essence, who you are.
The seeds and material for contentment are available to everyone everywhere. Certainly, quiet, rest, and leisure, retirement from the world, come highly recommended by this Stoic. But the truly wise man can be content anywhere, for that is a matter of inner circumstances.
Whatever you do, you are acting against your interests and harming yourself with the movement, since you are jolting a sick man. But when you have eliminated this evil, every change of scene will be agreeable; you may be driven to the remotest lands and set down in some random corner of a barbarian region, but that place, whatever it is like, will be welcoming to you. … Can anything be as crowded as the forum? Yet you can live calmly there too if you need to. (28.5, 6, trans. Elaine Fantham for Oxford World’s Classics)
I can find contentment in less-than-suitable accommodation. I can find rest for my soul even here. Even with all-night parties. Even with people smoking in my kitchen. Even with my greatest consolation off in Edinburgh.
I will try.