The Business of Life

mr carson downton abby

The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is. (Mr. Carson on Downton Abby)

Living in a wealthy, capitalistic country makes it easy for us to think that the measure of our life is the acquisition and accumulation of material things. He that dies with the most toys wins, right? Yet, as we age, we slowly learn that material things don’t matter much. We see death in the rearview mirror of our life as it day by day gains ground on us, and, in time, it will catch us, just like it has caught all who have come before us.

Jesus said:

And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. Luke 12:15

We measure success by what a person possesses. We assign status and value based on the size of the house, the make of the car, and the job one holds. The American entertainment business uses music and movies to present to us the American “dream,”  a life of drunken consumption, a life spent trying to outrun the Jones’s. Advertisers bombard us with ads that tell us if we just bought _________________ we would be happier, healthier, have whiter teeth, and have awesome sex. They persuade us that without whatever it is they are selling, our life is in some way lacking.

Our children and grandchildren go to schools where status and success is measured by wearing the right clothing and shoes and owning the right electronics. Our future heirs are fed a constant diet of American pop culture that attempts to rob youth of their identity. In their attempt to be different, they end up looking just like everyone else. Those who dare march to the beat of a different drummer are labeled as weird and banished to the fringes of school life.

Our pile of accumulated goods continues to grow. Soon Apple with announce that they are coming out with a new, a really, really new iPad, and millions of people will rush out and buy it. We never seem to ask how our iPad became so outdated so quickly, especially once we find out our new iPad isn’t much different from the old one.

It is certainly not wrong to have “things.” Many of us grew up in a religious world where preachers constantly shamed us for owning things. How dare we buy a new car when there are souls that need saving, missionaries that need support, and the preacher needs a new $500 suit.  For those of us who think this present life is the only one we will ever have, we want to enjoy this life and fruit of our labor. Even Solomon, often called the wisest man in the Bible, understood this:

There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour…(Ecclesiastes 2:24)

know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life.And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12,13)

Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? (Ecclesiastes 3:23)

Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.  Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 5:18,19)

Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:10,11)

While there is nothing inherently wrong with owning things or accumulating wealth, we are fools if we fail to understand how temporary and fleeting these things are. In an instant, that which we have accumulated can disappear. Then what? This is why I think Mr. Carson is right…The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is.

No matter what place we fall on the economic scale, no matter how full or bare our toy chest is, we always have the memories we have accumulated from the life we have lived among our friends and loved ones. When we reach the last day of life, our talk will not be of the cars or houses we owned or the wealth we accumulated. Our feeble, dying words will speak of the life we lived and those we lived it with.

Years later, when our children, grandchildren, and friends speak of us, they will not mention our wealth, status, or fame. They will not talk of the day Dad bought an iPad. Their thoughts and their words will recreate and bring to life the experiences they had with us. These memories are the substance of life. The only question is what kind of memories we will leave behind…

Comments (3)

  1. sgl

    from the famous japanese zen poet Ryokan (1758-1831):

    I watch people in the world
    Throw away their lives lusting after things,
    Never able to satisfy their desires,
    Falling into deeper despair
    And torturing themselves.
    Even if they get what they want
    How long will they be able to enjoy it?
    For one heavenly pleasure
    They suffer ten torments of hell,
    Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone.
    Such people are like monkeys
    Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
    And then falling into a whirlpool.
    How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer.
    Despite myself, I fret over them all night
    And cannot staunch my flow of tears.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Great poem! Very thought provoking.

  2. richardmarlowe236

    I tell my kids (and try to live by myself):

    “Making memories is more important than making money.” and “People are more important than possessions.”


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