Just passing by


Contraction pulls at that which extends too far

Weakness pulls at that which strengthens too much

Ruin pulls at that which rises too high

Loss pulls at life when you fill it with too much stuff

The lesson here is called

“The wisdom of obscurity” —

The gentle outlast the strong

The obscure outlast the obvious

This is from Jonathan Star’s translation of the Tao The Ching, verse 36. It reminds me of my studies a few years back of Jacques Derrida and deconstruction and most especially of my research on the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. I put together a seminary paper comparing deconstruction with Ecclesiastes.

For both, there seem to be forces within the world that respond and react, bringing balance to imbalance, or even bringing imbalance to what is balanced. For Derrida, any idea, institution, or writing contains within it the seeds of its own deconstruction. For the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, there is no free lunch in life, everything comes at a cost, there is no true “profit” or “excess” that can be won. He begins with a question: What advantage does a person have in all one’s work? This word “advantage,” if I recall correctly, is a word that can be translated as “profit” or “excess” or “gain.” Here is the conclusion that the Teacher gives, even before he begins his own deconstruction:

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.

What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted. (chap. 1)

A depressing thought? It would depend on our expectation of life. If we expect to wrest some “profit” from it, if we expect a return on our advantage, if this is our leading motivation, then we end only in striving to catch the elusive wind. Starting from zero, naked and helpless, and realizing that we end with zero, this puts things in perspective. Not that there is anything wrong with chasing the wind, of course, because it can be a helluva ride! However, maturity seems to bring perspective, and perspective tends to give rise to gratitude: life is viewed simply as a gift over which our sense of control is only an illusion.

Note: I snapped this photo a few months back in L.A., near Koreatown on my bike on the way to a Whole Foods store.

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

One thought on “Just passing by”

  1. Just a beautiful post.

    The gentle outlast the strong

    The obscure outlast the obvious

    Profound words. Love them.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.