Going too far is as bad as not going far enough. – Chinese proverb
Most people will probably agree that quality is more important than quantity, and most reasonable people recognize that it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. But it seems very few people, especially in America, can resist the temptation to want more of something that was fine as it was. This isn’t about portion size, though I suppose one could stretch the point to include that; what I’m really talking about is portion number.
The hero of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy novel Out of the Silent Planet, Dr. Ransom, arrives via a series of adventures on Mars, whose inhabitants never “fell” and therefore still live in a state of grace. One of the Martians tells Ransom that his people cannot understand the human drive to keep repeating things; if a Martian has a pleasant experience, he appreciates it for what it was and feels no compelling need to do it over again. In fact, they feel that to repeat it too soon would actually cheapen the initial experience. Reading that was one of those moments in which a book has a profound effect on one’s life; I had always felt exactly like Lewis’ Martians, and had never understood why other people didn’t. That passage gave me the words to describe how I felt, and let me know that I wasn’t the only person on Earth who saw it that way.
Let me give you a few examples. Once Olivia told me that she liked a new album so much she had “put it on repeat all afternoon”. I told her that I didn’t think my CD player had such a function, and she replied that she suspected it did but I just hadn’t ever looked for it. As it turned out she was exactly right; it had simply never occurred to me. Though I do play favorite albums more often than others, I literally could not comprehend why anyone would want to play the same album over again immediately after listening to it once. I was similarly flabbergasted by the kids who had seen Star Wars dozens of times; though I like the movie, I’ve probably seen it fewer times in my life than some of those kids watched it in a month. It’s the same thing with food flavors: every time we went to Plum Street Sno-Balls I got a different flavor, and would never return to the same one twice in a summer no matter how much I liked it; Jack, on the other hand, got the same flavor (pralines and cream) every single time we went there, without fail. The query, “Don’t you even want to try another flavor?” was invariably answered with, “I like this one.” I reckon that’s why I sympathize with the male need for sexual variety, even though I don’t really feel it myself (for reasons I’ve previously explained); on the other hand, I just don’t “get” why anyone would want to have sex twice in a single hour.
As you can probably guess, I find Hollywood’s addiction to unnecessary sequels, remakes and “reboots” incomprehensible. There are some movies which either need or can smoothly accommodate sequels, and others which can’t; there are some which practically scream, “Do not cheapen me with a sequel!” (Rule of thumb: if the writers can’t think of an actual name and instead just call it “Such-and-such II” it probably didn’t need one). Sometimes it’s easy to tell; nothing short of physical force or a very large sum of money could have compelled me to see Highlander II, because though I loved Highlander I could clearly see that the only way to make a sequel was to pervert the story. Alas, I wasn’t so perceptive when it came to Ghostbusters II. The same thing goes for television shows; I truly respect producers who end a show while it’s still strong, rather than allowing it to “jump the shark” and degenerate into self-parody before finally limping into its grave. And I promise you that if I ever feel my creative juices ebbing and recognize that the quality of this blog is starting to slip, I will have the wisdom to say “OK, that’s enough,” and go out on a high note.
And that brings me to my main point (yes, there is one): I feel the same way about lives as I do about shows. Even if a person has a happy life, even if he has a spectacular life, everything has a point at which it’s best for it to end. Change is natural; just because a person is aging or disabled due to disease or injury does not mean his life is necessarily worse than it was when he was young and hale. In fact, some people are actually happier after such a change of life, just as some sequels surpass the original. So I’m not saying there should be some specific point at which everyone hangs it up; some TV series are spent after three seasons, while others can carry on for seven or more. What I am saying is that I respect the wisdom of those who can see when it’s time to go, and choose to leave this plane in a dignified manner of their own choosing rather than being dragged kicking and screaming across the threshold, pathetically clinging to life like the cast of After MASH. Furthermore, I think it’s an abomination for tyrants to prevent people from doing so, even when their lives have degenerated into inescapable nightmares; an individual who does not own and control his own body is a slave, and self-determination includes the right to self-termination. Quality, as I said at the beginning, is far more important than quantity, and a successful life is judged by its character rather than by the number of years it endures.