good lives

The most appealing daily schedule I know is that of a turn-of-the-century Danish aristocrat.  He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe.  At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning.  They converged “at one of these babbling brooks,” he wrote.  He outlined the rest of his schedule.  “Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three.  Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log until the sun comes up again to redden the eastern sky.  This is living…Could it be any more perfect?”

There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough.  The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more.  The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.  Who would call a day spent reading a good day?  But a life spent reading- that is a good life.  A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one.  But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?

-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life


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