That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME. You may call it a “cycle” or a “pattern” or a “rhythm,” but there is a definite repetitiveness to this world. What has been done in days gone by is what will be done in days to come. There is, when you really think about it, nothing new under the sun.

Things that seem to be new in the world are usually just variations on a theme, and the theme has been around for a long time. Sometimes variations on a theme can be extremely important and quite innovative, but they are still just improvements on something that was already in the world. We are not, and cannot be, creators in the true sense. We can only be what J. R. R. Tolkien called “sub-creators,” rearrangers of preexisting materials.

Unfortunately, most of the “new” things that people make such a to-do about are nothing more than fads and fashions, trends that come and go, and are labeled “old” as soon as the next “new” one comes along. On this kind of newness, Robert M. Pirsig commented: “ ‘What’s new?’ is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.”

We may as well face it, in all the most important ways, the world remains the same generation after generation. But that statement is not meant to be depressing or demeaning to the dignity of human beings. It is simply to say that we all live in the same world. There is a certain context common to all men and women, no matter when and where they have lived. We experience the same joys, we suffer the same sorrows, and we encounter the same challenges. When we back up and look at life from the broadest perspective, none of us can say that our lives are unique.

That insight should do two things for us. First, we should have a greater respect for the experience of those who’ve gone before. And second, we should have a greater humility as to the importance and “newness” of our own contributions to the world. What we do may well be important, but it’s all been done before.

“Everything that has been is eternal: the sea will wash it up again” (Friedrich Nietzsche).

Gary Henry — +

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