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Everyone Knows Life Is Terrible

May 19, 2019

When we say life is terrible, that is not to say it is only terrible, or always terrible, or primarily terrible. It is a funny thing to speak of “life” in this way at all, but we do, and when we do, so grandly and embracingly, as if lunging spread-armed into the air, greedily and graciously, omni-adverbally, we must catch the terrible along with everything else. The terrible in all of its terribleness. And horribleness. And despair. Despair, which negates life even as it comes from life, dies with life, and is found nowhere else.

A life may not be terrible; that would certainly be the life. But life, articleless life, must be terrible, as it is grand, too short, a bitch, beautiful, and ain’t fair. Everyone knows this.

When we say “everyone knows” we do not usually mean that everyone knows. Why say what everyone knows, only to point out that everyone knows it?  We may mean something like— you’d have to be an moron not to know this, a complete moron what is wrong with you?  Whenever you are tempted to use the “everyone knows” formulation you might want to pause and ask yourself— am I just being a jerk?

But when I say “Everyone Knows Life Is Terrible” it is not like that. Okay, it is a little like that. But more. It is aspirational; a hope, a dream, a plea. It is like saying “We Are All In This Together.”  That may be sort of true and sort of false, but when you declare it you proffer both a promise and a request. The promise to live it as truth, the request that others do the same.

Everyone knows life is terrible. Here at least we find a common bond, certain foundation, and guiding light. As experience it isolates, as truth it brings together. Experiencing the worst, or just the bad enough, you will find yourself terribly alone. But not without this connecting thread of shared understanding. Let us cherish that thread, which only a monster would want to cut, to deny what we all know, that life is terrible. (Of course, life being terrible, there are monsters.)

Since everyone possesses it, no distinction can be claimed for having this knowledge. This does not keep people from trying, and not just teenagers. This is one of the main reasons for affirming that everyone knows— to undermine the preening superior attitude of those who would claim the obvious as their own personal illumination, that they might lord it over a common herd of dimly cheerful idiots. The common know, the cheerful know, even the idiots know. They may just be better at handling their knowledge than the grim darklords of affectation.

What we need is always love and courage. Everyone knows that life is terrible— here we can begin, and go on, and find out what else life may be.

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