The Swedish spring is a wonderful time. The snow melts violently; the water that is freed makes little streams and then suddenly its inherent will and force burst forth, as though conquering all opposition. The half-starved little bird gives out a chirp as if to say bygones are forgotten as a new season approaches — the vision of the variety of forces and the irresistibility of life stir one to thoughts and reflections of a higher kind. Still, there is much tragedy behind the joyous tapestry: even the thrush, whose trilling sounds so beautiful outside my window, has his sorrow to bear — he is alone.
The aging process and the conditions which make a person more and more lonely inside are to me the greatest tragedy. In the last few years many colleagues at the Swedish Railway have retired from their posts on the locomotives — people I had learned to know and to like. In almost every case they have landed in a state of crisis: comfortable enough economically, yet their center of gravity seems to have been snatched from them. They are "homeless" because they have nothing more to work for. On the railway they had experienced a unity, something meaningful, and there was a certain direction to their lives; moreover, the element of excitement in their work was somehow creative and revitalizing. But now they have aged rapidly, and a few have simply faded away. Those, however, who had other interests and hobbies have kept their vitality; they have channeled their inner energies in various directions, and thus are benefiting from their time as pensioners.
I have thought much about this over the years, and have reached the conclusion that the way a person grows older has a great deal to do with his capacity to experience and to feel. That part of us must not be blunted, and I believe it is the greatest challenge to consciously keep it alive.
The aim of those who are able in their work to devote themselves solely to helping humanity is sublime in its simplicity. This finer form of service works as a spiritual dynamo and seems to have a drive of an unusual kind. But it tends to cause a feeling of wistfulness because, for most of us, our lives are filled with the ordinary routine of small duties. Perhaps this feeling can be compared to the regrets of the pensioners, who for a short period had been privileged to take part in an activity where great effort and even sacrifice were demanded of them, only to pass into the condition of retirees. Yet perhaps all the striving behind the outward imperfections and the touching human and friendly exchanges between people is itself a work for mankind. Particularly in connection with the intense struggle of people everywhere, isn't it the aspiration for grander things which unites us all, linking everybody together? Surely something happens on the plane of the soul when a human being, wherever he is, tries to do his best with whatever lies in his path. I do not think we need to feel when we are on the job, whether on a locomotive, in the office, or wherever our duty is, that we are not working for humanity: it may be exactly what life demands of us because where we are is absolutely important not only for ourselves but for the whole.
Whenever we feel this deeply, we sense something tremendously inspiring which, in spite of the difficult time we live in, gives a quiet joy and a trust in the ultimate goodness in life and in human beings. It is as though one were washed clean inside, as though momentarily at least one achieves contact with the atmosphere of thoughts that lie at the depth of our soul and which bear the real responsibility for our actions.
(From Sunrise magazine, February/March 2005; copyright © 2005 Theosophical University Press)