The train carriage had a recycling basket for copies of the free newspaper discarded by that day’s commuters. By late afternoon, it was well filled: the stories of the day digested and the papers set aside. The front page photographs were of the events of yesterday afternoon, but for the readers it was obviously now old news. Tomorrow morning’s edition will have a new set of news stories, the emphasis may shift from moments of profound world importance to the silly and trivial details of celebrity culture. “Life goes on”, the editor would say.
During moments of personal sadness, there have sometimes been moments of acute awareness that the world does not stop. Sometimes there has been a wish that life might continue as normal somewhere else, sometimes there has been a realization of how absurd is the stuff of ordinary, everyday life when viewed through the prism of unhappy experience, but it all continues, anyway.
Life goes on. Shakespeare writes with a keen sense of the transience of life, and a sense that even the most important of people are just passing. In the pages of the tragedy Hamlet, there is a moment of black humour that captures a sense that however great and significant a person might be, no matter how important the events surrounding them, it all comes and it all goes:
Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
At supper! where?
Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain
convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your
worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all
creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for
maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but
variable service, two dishes, but to one table:
that’s the end.
A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a
king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
What dost thou mean by this?
Nothing but to show you how a king may go a
progress through the guts of a beggar.
Perhaps Shakespeare might have noticed the accumulated newspapers in the basket and reflected on the news with a degree of equanimity similar to that of Hamlet discussing the death of Polonius. Life goes on.
Perhaps it is the banality of life, the ordinary, the everyday, the dull and the mundane that points up the significant stories. Perhaps the celebrity stories are necessary to ensure people realize that there are other stories that are on a different plane of reality. Hamlet’s humour is used to capture the horror of the death of Polonius. The ordinary stories that will be discarded tomorrow will serve to emphasize the horror of the past week. Perhaps life needs to go on as it does in order that we might cope.