“…the artist does not see life as a problem to be solved, but as a medium for creation.”– Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker
When I look at all things created by man, all the things I could celebrate, I am drawn to my sunglasses.
O glorious sunglasses! I do not see you the way Hadley Freeman sees you:
“…[sunglasses] make you look cool, they make you look rich, they get you attention because people think you might be famous, and they might possibly stop wrinkles—frankly, it’s a wonder the fashion world hasn’t put them up for sainthood.” – Hadley Freeman, The Meaning of Sunglasses: And a Guide to Almost Everything Fashionable
I do not see you as the fashion world sees you, but I join it in calling for a special dispensation. There is no word for how I see you: Accessory? Gear? Equipment? Livery? Uniform? A single word falls short of what you do for me.
Romantic notions about science and creativity abound. We imagine a neat and tidy process in which Science notes a possible problem, forms a hypothesis, tests. A conclusion is drawn, and Necessity is revealed. Science and Necessity then conceive and create a technology to solve the problem. But creativity is not so. Consider more from Sayers and The Mind of the Maker:
“From our brief study of the human maker’s way of creation, it should be fairly clear that the creator does not set out from a set of data, and proceed, like a crossword solver or a student of elementary algebra, to deduce from them a result which shall be final, predictable, complete, and the only one possible. The concept of ‘problem and solution’ is as meaningless, applied to the act of creation, as it is when applied to the act of procreation. To add John to Mary in a procreative process does not produce a ‘solution’ of John and Mary’s combined problem: it produces George or Susan, who (in addition to being a complicating factor in the life of his or her parents) possesses an independent personality with an entirely new set of problems.”
So it goes with the creation of the modern pair of sunglasses. The real story is that Sam Foster and Bill Grant went into business together to manufacture women’s hair accessories. When hairstyles changed, they ran into a little trouble, and began using their plastic injection molding equipment to make other things, including sunglasses sold on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Sunglasses were once custom-made, typically for those considered too weak to bear harsh light. After they became widely available, all sorts of people began wearing them, people with health and vitality, people enjoying their time in the sun. The creation took on a life of its own.
Today we know that properly treated lenses can help protect our eyes from the effects of UV rays, but for Foster Grant, sunglasses were a way to use their equipment and make money. And I confess: the fact that wearing sunglasses is good for you never motivates me to wear them.
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we read:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
This is how the Book of Ecclesiastes begins, sounding like a book filled with darkness. It reflects our need to know why; what does it all mean? The Preacher, our guide in the book, sees that a search for meaning can lead us to wrong thinking. We might try to find meaning in our potential legacy, or our potential wealth, or our right living guaranteeing success, or at least being better off than our neighbor. If we thought this way, our understanding of life would be skewed. We would wrongly view the results of our work as a solution to the problem of meaning. The Preacher calls this “striving after the wind” because the results of our labor are uncertain.
The Preacher spends much time debunking certainty. The only certainty in Ecclesiastes is death.
This statement, at first glance, does not make the book sound any less dark, but I find its reality comforting. Sayers puts it this way: “The thing that is settled is finished and dead, and [the artist’s] concern is not with death but with life ‘that ye may have life and have it more abundantly.’”
And The Preacher? He weaves our follies with alternate calls to God-fearing joy. Five times he points to it, commends it, recommends it. Joy. Even as the fortunes of people rise and fall, even as a sense of pleasure waxes and wanes, even as we consider death and dying and the benefits of having never been born, The Preacher claims the value of joy, like in Chapter 5:
“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”
There is pleasure in the toil. There is gratitude for the gift of God—not just having wealth or possessions or power, not just the ability to enjoy life, but the ability to accept our lot and rejoice in our toil and be forgetful of the days of our lives because God keeps our hearts occupied with joy. How unlike the temptations of this age, when we believe documenting every bite will give pleasure, when we think joy arrives from pure leisure.
I have other temptations. For example, I have been tempted to call this living: hiding, waiting for certainties, waiting for the only certainty. That’s a dark place; no need for sunglasses there. But God has given light and life; is a burrowed subsistence how He wants me to experience them?
No. Better to remember that, even as The Preacher pounds the pain of living “under the sun,” he also declares the light sweet and pleasant. Life under the sun is not a problem to be solved. It is not the result of the work, but the work itself I must celebrate. Despite the uncertainities, despite certainty, I go forth. This is why I wear sunglasses.