Essay about giving up

Figure, by Ivan Serpa

Most of life consists of giving up. In fact, all of life is a rehearsal for one final act of giving up. Sometimes, the rehearsal is long and full of experiences, while other times it is so short that the being doesn't even become aware of what is happening, not even at a rudimentary level. For those who have a longer life, every choice implies giving up at least one other thing, but usually it involves multiple things. We give up on most things, even if we do not realize or choose to ignore it.

There is a therapeutic aspect in giving up on some things, which can make approaching this phenomenon seem somewhat like self-help. Giving up on a project that no longer serves us or that is not working out is sometimes better than continuing, it is true. There is no point in banging our heads against the wall. Some efforts are in vain, and it is better to recognize this as soon as possible. But this seemingly positive aspect of giving things up does not change the reality that, whether we want to or not, giving up is always with us, and that often has nothing positive about it.

Much of giving up involves moral aspects. Some may disagree, but when we lie comfortably in our beds while a person sleeps on the street a few meters away, amidst cockroaches and rats, we choose, albeit passively, not to help them. We prefer our comfort over theirs.

Yes, we can argue that it is not possible to help them for various reasons, or that even if we helped them, we could not help them all the time. We can also say that if we could help them all the time, we could not help other people. We cannot save the entire world. All of this is true. Helping some means giving up on helping others. Depending on the occasion, giving our time to others, even loved ones, means giving up on spending time with ourselves. And so on. We give up all the time, and there is nothing we can do about it, except perhaps use a more positive language: I am not giving up on many things, I am affirming one thing!

We keep giving up anyway. Time passes like a huge moving train, inexorable, and with it, we see paths being set aside, passing by the window. Should I go to the store and get an ice cream? Should I pursue a Ph.D.? Every path we take is another we did not choose, and they are left behind the train. Even if opportunities return and we want to embrace them, we are no longer who we were before, at least in many aspects. Rather than turning this aspect of our existence into something positive, it is better to see it as an impossibility: we cannot do differently.

When we open one door, several others close, until a moment when we are forced through increasingly painful and abject doors against our will. Only one door is left in the end. The last view of the train before it reaches the station of nothingness, the same station from which we started, crying, while everyone around us thought that the scene was very beautiful — of course, because they were conditioned by culture and nature to persevere in the face of the carnival of horrors.

Why should we choose to give up on so many things and not give up on some others? Sometimes because it means recognizing oneself in the other, as in the case of those choices that contain moral aspects. But from a certain point of view, all of them contain moral aspects. After all, we could always be saints who give themselves to others all the time. However, as we have seen, it is very difficult. And it really is. If life is a test for holiness, in the sense of recognizing ourselves in others and giving our whole being so that others in need feel relieved, those who pass the test are very few.

Everything comes back to the problem of birth. Everything. This ocean of giving up and of impossibilities, which are never remembered, like the scores of losers in the Olympics, is the result of that first injury we suffered, the most terrible of all. We were graced with the gift of being witnesses to the most grotesque things, of being part of a close and personal analysis of the inherent decay of becoming, and we smile from ear to ear, thinking everything is very beautiful, of course.

A few recognize that becoming is rarely beautiful, but they consider it necessary and beyond any reproach, believing that this position makes them wise. They are less blind than many, yes. But they end up playing the role of excuse-makers for the meat grinder to which we are subjected in this life. It is true that there is much beauty and the appearance of necessity. But everything seems to be like an insidious plan, made by evil forces, to imprison us in here.

I wish I could have given up on my own birth! We all wish it. Not to have been... What a wonderful thing. A philosophy of giving up, which makes us realize that, having being born, we can understand that everything, in the end, is in vain. At the end of life, our consciousness, formed from organic matter and subjected to natural forces, return to the same stage of nonexistence from which they came, if all goes well. We return to the blessed nonexistence we gave up when we came into this world. Or rather: the blessed nonexistence which others made us give up.

Just imagining the possibility of never having to give up on anything, of never having to choose anything, of never having others give up on us, is soothing. There is a vacuity in everything we do and everything we are. God gave up on his creation, why can't we rejoice at the possibility of paying back in kind? There has never been a God, and are we the result of nature? Then we owe absolutely nothing to nature, and we can give up on this impersonal Mother, who does not care about snuffing out her children by the trillions every day.

No, human life is not a test for holiness, although those who live to alleviate the suffering of others are the best of us. It is more like a test, made by chance, in which the victors are those who understand that we must give up on the decay of becoming. There is holiness in giving up, too, and the altruistic holiness is not incompatible with the holiness of the one who gives up. The two only seem incompatible for those who intend to perpetuate suffering, fetishizing their role as saints. The holiness of the one who gives up surpasses and encompasses all others, including altruistic holiness, because it perceives the vacuity of trying to persevere in a malignantly useless endeavor.

by Fernando Olszewski