“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams once said, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” How true it is. It’s an idea that goes to the very essence of what Marcus Aurelius and Seneca and Epictetus spend so much time talking about.
Reality is a stubborn thing. As much as we might want events to go or be one way, this has little bearing on the way they are. We wish we had been born tall, to a rich or royal family, we wish that special someone we fell head over heels in love with would return the feeling (or be the person we idealized them to be in our hearts) and yet, that is not how things are. We put in the work and yet, somehow, the person who was less talented won. We held our nose and voted for one candidate and, still, somehow the greater of two evils ended up winning.
What do we do? It’s so unfair. It’s so frustrating. It’s just not right. Yet, yet, yet…
In ex-Marine Karl Marlantes’ Matterhorn, a novel based on his experience fighting in the Vietnam War, the line, “There it is,” appears nearly thirty times, spoken by different characters. Your post Ivy League graduation plans were thwarted by a war? There it is. You have no experience leading a platoon of marines? There it is. You don’t get to sleep for two days because of an enemy invasion? There it is.
Life is “There it is.” Stoicism is an acknowledgement of that fact, it’s a coping mechanism and a response to this fact. That’s what Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius and Seneca were all talking about in their own way: How to make the most of a world to which most of what happens is not up to us and, in fact, seems to go contrary to how we would choose if it were.
We can get angry and announce our disapproval. We can throw our hands up, curse the sky, and tell whoever will listen about how unfair this or that is. But as much as we argue, we can’t alter reality. So, we must embrace it. We must love it. All of it. Amor fati. “There it is.”
And then do our best. And then make the most of it.