There is a memorable internal monologue in Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in which a horse, newly freed of its human slavery, contemplates its future and plans its day – a bit of standing by the fence, a little trot around the field, followed by some more standing under a tree. Until the Electric Monk lands on its back again.
Yet there is no evidence that non-human animals engage in this sort of planning. My canine family members, while they are aware of when the day is a weekday or a weekend, seem to harbour a small amount of anticipation for the latter, but I don’t see them making a mental list of things to do during each day.
Similarly, the sparrows which eat and drink from our outdoor altar each morning – although aware of the time of day, for sure – don’t keep an agenda hidden in their feathers. Neither does the huge datura plant in the front garden plot which of its buds will open in the future. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.
It’s only human animals whose existential angst produces heart-rending cries of “I don’t know where I’m going” or “I have no direction in life”. It is only humans who plan for generations into the future, often looking beyond Earth’s atmosphere to the beckoning stars, imagining an entire way of life on some distant planets, some time in the future.
Is this our downfall? Our inability to live in the moment, like the other animals and the plants? Our pressing need to be going somewhere seems to me a deadly condition for that most overwhelmingly common mental affliction (if my own statistics can be believed) which lands us in medical institutions – depression.
And so I was greatly moved, when catching the ending of the Christmas-Special Day of the Doctor on the telly earlier today, the newest incarnation of the Time Lord says “I know where I’m going. I’m going home. The long way”.
May this knowledge be graved upon our hearts for all our time here.