3584– Tuesday, July 9, 2019 –  My Four Apocalyptic Horsemen: Fear, Cynicism, Despair and Pain

It has been nineteen days since my last blog.  I see that by my actuarial timetable, I now have 3584 days to live.  I have used up 64 days of my life since I started this “new” blog series.  I wonder if most writers think about the usefulness of their writing or what their writing has accomplished.  I was on a short vacation with my wife for ten of the last nineteen days, but I have found it very difficult to get back into my writing mode.  I question whether or not anything I have ever said makes one iota of difference in the world.  Do I write just to hear myself write?   I am not a person overly prone to depression but every so often I just feel like nothing is worth saying, doing or living for.

I recently wrote to an older friend of mine who has become very cynical and obstreperous in his old age.  I told him that I believed aging had four “Apocalyptic Horsemen” that we must contend with:

  1. Fear
  2. Cynicism
  3. Despair
  4. Pain


I notice that many older people seem more fearful.  Some have said that ever since 9/11, America has become a nation of fearful inhabitants. We seem to embrace militarism and “heroes” to a degree I think never seen before in our nation.  Many people I know will not travel or go anyplace because “it is too dangerous.”  Fear pervades our thinking about politics these days and we seem willing to embrace demagoguery if it will keep us safe.  Benjamin Franklin said that: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


I also told my friend that perhaps my four horsemen were not shared by all of my age cohort.  When it comes to cynicism, I confess to having always been somewhat of a cynic.  I am very good at finding what is wrong with things, but I have a harder time finding what is right.  Theodore Roosevelt when commenting on the plethora of journalists who were muckraking during the early 1900’s made the following statement: “In Pilgrims Progress the Man with the Muckrake is set forth as an example of him whose vision is fixed on carnal instead of spiritual things… Yet he also typifies the man who in this life consistently refuses to see aught that is lofty and fixes his eyes with solemn intentness only on that which is vile and debasing.”  I would not want to be remembered as the guy who always saw what is wrong with the world, but I would also like to avoid being a Pollyanna.  Here again is the Golden Mean necessitating us to balance extremes and find the happy medium.


Despair and depression seem to both suggest a feeling of hopelessness.  People are inherently greedy thus the world will never change.  People are self-centered, short-sighted, cognitively challenged, apathetic, etc., etc.  Easy to find reasons to give up.  Easy to believe that I cannot make a difference or that anything I do or say or write is meaningless.  We look for evidence that we are making a difference and evidence, like the truth, seems to be ephemeral and elusive.  I sometimes think I am too focused on searching for meaning as though it were the Holy Grail.  I have always thought or heard that life without meaning is worthless.  Viktor Frankl wrote an entire book on “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  He noted that: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”


Finally, we come to the icing on the cake:  Pain.  Young people can and will suffer pains as they go through life.  But for most younger people, pain is not a constant in their lives but only a temporary annoyance.  For the majority of older people, pain is a constant companion.  We wake up each morning, wondering what part of us will hurt, or whether or not we will make it through the day without pain in some part of our bodies.  Pain tempers our thoughts, our behaviors and our actions.  How much can we accomplish today before the pain sets in?  Should we go to see a doctor, or should we grin and bear it?

I am loath to include any quotes on pain since so many of them are telling us the benefits of pain.  Joseph Campbell intoned: “Find a place inside where there’s joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”  I wonder how much physical pain Mr. Campbell had while he was finding his joy?  I have not yet come to believe that pain is a stimulus for anything.  The old adage by Franklin that: “No pain, no gain” has too often been used by morons exhorting others to ignore their pains and suffer in silence.  For older people, pains do not go away.  We deal with pain because we must.  To give in to pain is to give up but to ignore pain is often impossible.

There you have it.  My four “Apocalyptic Horsemen:” Fear, Cynicism, Despair and Pain.  On any given day, I am confronting one of them.  Some days, I just want to crawl in a hole and hide.  Other days, I bound out of bed excited at the possibilities that lie inherent in a new day.  What are your horsemen?  How do you deal with them?


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