The death of Vera Lynn this morning in Britain at the age of 103, marked the transition of my country from a time of certainty and stability to one of unpredictability and confusion. Lynn represented what was the blitz spirit of Britain that faced down Nazi Germany, when it had empire and a proud knowing of its place in the universe. I live in a time when I am unsure what Britain is anymore, where there is nothing to hold onto that defines my sense of Britishness. I sense that this existential crisis may exist across many nations of the world, where the citizen, in the age of global branding such as Facebook, Nike and Coca-Cola, has had their sense of national identity stripped by superficial cultural garbage.
The philosopher Heraclitus says that all of nature is in constant motion and change; which is to say, that the only constant in life is change. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius observes that events in life and history repeat; today, we have a global epidemic of the coronavirus, in the time of Aurelius the Antonine Plague was ravaging the Roman Empire.
Despite the ideas of constant change and repetition of events, there is an understanding that in these cycles, the pace of change is slow and fast. Vera Lynn might represent to me a time of slower change, but Brexit represents a period changing at a faster pace. Indeed, the speed of change in the world, has made it so confusing and distressing for me, I have a major reluctance to follow the news anymore.
Even as the world moves forwards at a frentic pace, the individual has the refuge of self to turn to, which moves at a calmer pace. The individual can find stability and calm in the storm by reference to their internal self. The individual ages, but feels the same as they did as when they were younger: their heart beats the same; their lungs fill with and expel air; their brain fires, leading to thoughts.
Marcus Aurelius suggests that the individual ceases worrying about the world; to find the goal in life of why the self exists; and then to focus all resources and life to that goal. In embracing and manifesting the goal, the individual finds stability in the goal of their life.
An individual can replace lost money or shoes, but time is unreplaceable. An individual has a finite amount of time of life in their body, just as Vera Lynn was allocated 103 years of time. Too many people waste time worrying about things they have no power over: such as coronavirus; or over matters such as Donald Trump, who will vanish into history one way or another, like so many leaders like him in the past. So, by giving time to things that are irrelevant, the individual sacrifices a finite resource – time – which could have been better spent on the goal in their life.
It is my view that the goal in life becomes the rock pillar of stability in periods of confusing change. The goal gives a sense of purpose and meaning in life, which makes a life worth living, regardless of what the world is doing. Even if Britain or the world has lost all meaning, the goal provides a constant source of meaning to the individual who finds and pursues their life goal.