Scallywag

Brevity is the soul of lingerie.

~ Dorothy Parker ~

Happy Words… Is That All There Is?

December 17th, 2011 ~ Est. reading time: 2 mins, 36 secs

If that's all there is, spare me the happy words.

Peggy Lee’s 1969 song, “Is That All There Is?” hit the nail on the head. Back when people were discovering the material excesses and social freedoms of the post war boom, her song struck a contrary note of caution. Written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the song echoes the thoughts of German novelist and social critic, Thomas Mann, and it remains as provocative today as it ever was.

“Is that all there is, is that all there is?

If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.

If that’s all there is.”

Hardly happy words, the lyrics reflect negatively on how shallow and pointless life can be. On the face of it, why should anyone mention something so dreary and sad? Shouldn’t we by avoiding its melancholy message?

Perhaps surprisingly, no. If we hide from life’s truths then we end up inventing a fairytale existence of happy words and intentions. Colorful and quaint on the outside. Dead and despairing within. I suspect the question “Is that all there is?” keeps many people fearful. Because for them, it’s true.

If life is just television shows, light entertainment, shopping, and show biz gossip, then the question cuts to the heart. Life that shallow is barely there. Yet life is infinitely more full than parties, impressing people, and coveting stuff.

What too many miss is enough personal meaning. The more the better, as long as it’s noble to the core. That’s what Peggy Lee’s song is challenging us to consider. We need meaning, not froth and bubble. The latter is fine and can give us a grand old time, but we are made for much more than keeping ourselves amused.

The trouble is, and always has been, we don’t trust ourselves enough. We might surrender to the shallowness of vanity, but only because we don’t realise how important our life is. If we thought our personal decisions and actions could change history, would we look at ourselves differently?  You may not achieve something so lofty, but you definitely have the potential.

We appear very ordinary, in a veritable sea of everyday people. Yet though it seems so we are actually rather remarkable, at least in a big picture sense. Go straight up from where you are right now. About 50 miles/80km up, Earth’s atmosphere becomes more like space. Keep going. See any other people? You might see the International Space Station with five or six folk on board. But that’s it. No more happy words can be heard in the unimaginable vastness beyond. You could keep going for distances so huge they are measured in how far light travels in a year. But there are no other “ordinary” people in our part of the universe. At least none we know of (I expect other people do inhabit the Universe, but they would surely too far away to ever meet.). Our incredibly fertile world is unique, in this part of the galaxy at least.

Though we are small, and seem insignificant, there is absolutely no reason to behave that way. You and I are extraordinary to the core, made from nothing less than the stuff of distant stars. We can choose to own our awe-inspiring heritage as human beings. Or we can act small, and think smaller. Our happy words can be trivial and pointless. Or our happy words can convey much bigger thinking. Given our surprising existence, you and I have every reason to behave with dignity.

“Is that all there is, is that all there is?

If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.

Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.

If that’s all there is.”

 

Feegs

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