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On the Thickness of Life

We are in something of an interim period these days. The shocking brunt of the pandemic has passed. Yet life doesn't feel like should, like we expect it to feel. That's not to say we expect things to return to normal. But the place we now find ourselves is between overt disruption and stable normalcy. There is nothing much to respond to in the present moment and little to count on looking toward the future. It is a feeling of stasis, of lingering in the doldrums.

And while the pandemic has taken many things from us -- human connection, work routines, a sense of reliable tempo -- I believe there is one thing above all that we are missing: the thickness of life.

Life for us has of late been thin. Every aspect of existence that we hold dear has been reduced to a narrower range of frequencies. Human connection takes place under severe constraints: capping the number of people we can see at one time, the places we can see in them in, and the things we can do when together. What was once a sometimes overwhelming and encumbering slate of social activity has been reduced to a strained and uninspired following of procedure. This is community at its thinnest.

Work has also become thin. A professional culture that already prioritized efficiency and productivity over connection and meaning has now been forced to leap even further into the expedient and the technologically-assisted. The commute may be shorter; but the vibrancy of collective pursuit has been sucked out of the room. We've found ways to continue doing what we're supposed to be doing. Yet those ways don't seem quite as satisfying.

The problem is that a thin life is one devoid of meaning. What fills life with a sense of worthwhileness isn't efficiency and expediency. It is thickness. And that thickness comes from being able to appreciate as much as possible as deeply as possible.

A thick life is an exercise in breadth and depth. It is consistently engaging in a broader array of activities than you previous have. It is constantly to be searching for greater depth in as many of those activities as possible.

There is music and theater and food and cinema and drink and comfort and sophistication and literature and science and compassion and sadness and human connection and human complication and productivity and leisure. No one of these things alone makes for a full life. Each one of them is worth gaining closer intimacy with through the full course of a life.

This isn't to say that you need to love all things all the time, or that you must cultivate a taste for everything put in front of you. Rather that there is so much out there to enjoy and engage with. Your current purview, no matter how large, is only a fraction of what's out there. One of the points of life, one of your great responsibilities in attempting to live it well, is to appreciate as much of it as possible as deeply as you can.

And so what has been robbed from us lately is life's thickness. It is what imbues our experience with meaning and sates us on our days. But as of late life has been reduced to a thin facsimile of its former self. This is why we so often feel uninspired, adrift, and engaged in far less than we should be.

So, you may ask, what are we to do about this? I'm not sure that I have an answer. Life will begin to regain thickness over time, likely without our noticing it. In the meantime, we have a responsibility to rededicate ourselves to what's still in front of us. Though it may be different than what we're used to, it's still there. As ever, it's not about engaging with all possible things. It's about continually working to broaden your scope. And that's possible, even now.


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