Monday, July 11, 2011

WHO WAS RIGHT: Zorba or the Old Man?

Dear Friends,

A few years ago, I became enamored with a book written by Nikos Kazantzakis. In its original Greek text it was known as, "THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ALEXIS ZORBA". But, when it was translated into English, it became known as simply, "ZORBA THE GREEK". In about 1964 it was made into a movie by the same name which starred Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates.

When I was partially through reading the book for the second or third time, I came to the realization that, "ZORBA THE GREEK", was not just a work of fiction - it was also a book of philosophy. I should have realized this from the beginning, as Nikos Kazantzakis was also a great philosopher in addition to being a great writer.

At any rate, I have a question that I would like to pose to those of you who follow and read my blog. It is not a trick question...and it probably has no "right" or "wrong" answer. But I am seriously interested in what your response will be to my question.

At one point in the book, Zorba comes upon an old man who is planting an almond tree. Astonished, Zorba exclaims, "What? Grandpa! Planting an almond tree at your age?" Zorba was inferring that at the old man's age, he would never live to see the tree produce a single almond. The old man looked up at Zorba and replied, "My son, I live every day as if I shall never die." To which Zorba responded, "Hah! I live every day as if I shall die any minute!" I think the philosophical question raised is this: Which of them was right? The old man for saying that he lived every day as if he would never die? Or Zorba, for saying that he lived every day as if he would die any moment?

As I said earlier, there is no "right" or "wrong" answer. Please leave your answer, response or comment below by clicking the word that reads, "Comments", below. After several of you have left your answers (or comments), I will post my answer to the same question in the "Comments" section below. I do value your answers and comments! Thanks in advance for participating in this little survey.

Your Friend and Fellow "Silent Warrior",

Bob Armistead


James Gill 88-90 said...

Zorba is correct as it instills a sense of urgency to living a passionate life NOW!

Verna said...

I feel both philosophies are correct and that you have to weave a balance into your life. Live each day as if you will live forever - plan not only for your days on earth, but what you will leave behind; consider what you have to do in order to live the life you wish to live if you do live another 10 years, 50 years, etc. You must also live each day as if it will be your last - don't save every precious cent for old age in case you don't make it past mid-life; create sufficient memories now on the chance that it might be your final opportunity. In other words - make sure you have enough for an IRA and a vacation ;-)

CycleCynic said...

I believe they are both right. I, being a pessimist, live as though I were already dead(worry about death). But, I enjoy living and if I'm doing something strenuous that I enjoy, don't tell me I'm too old, leave me alone.
Have a great time.

John said...

The man who lives as if he will live forever knows that his seed will enjoy the fruits of his seeds. The man who lives as if this was his last leaves his seed to look after itself.

Bob (Bobby) said...

Dear Friends,

I want to thank those of you who addressed my question regarding Zorba and the Old Man. I read your responses closely and can see that you put a lot of thought into your answers - they were both well-reasoned and provocative. And, the reason that I didn't want to provide my answer initially, was because I didn't want to influence any of your answers. I wanted your answers to be spontaneous and honest...and they were. As I had previously stated, there is most likely no "right" or "wrong" answer. What follows is my answer to the same question:

I think that Zorba and the Old Man were BOTH right. Perhaps it boils down to a matter of perspective. Zorba represents youth. It seems that all younger people have a tendency to live in a reckless, devil-may-care manner. When I was young, I know I did. And when you were younger, most likely you did as well. We took chances because we wanted to experience all that life had to offer and we paid little attention to the consequences that our actions might create. We wanted to cram as much living into each twenty-four hour period as we possibly could. And, like when Zorba said, "Hah! I live every day as if I will die any minute!", many of us lived in much that same way!

On the other hand, we have the Old Man, who said, "My son, I live every day as if I shall never die." The Old Man, while planting an almond tree that he would never live long enough to see it produce a single almond, had absolutely no hesitations or misgivings about making plans for the distant future.

So, how do we figure into all of this? Well, given the premise that Zorba and the Old Man were BOTH right, perhaps we should all maintain a balance in our lives...a balance of living as if we have no tomorrow, while at the same time living as if we have an endless supply of tomorrows. Does it have a practical application? Yes, I think so. The "Zorba" in me tells me that tomorrow morning, at the age of 62, I will go down to the beach and go snorkeling in the waters of the Aegean Sea for the very first time in my life. And at the same time, the "Old Man" in me says that I will make plans to return to Crete and celebrate my 100th birthday here in 2048!

I know that many of you who were once stationed here on Crete have often thought about returning to Crete one day. Please, please stop thinking about it and just do it! Life is not just about thinking - it is also about doing! Each day that we allow to slip past without "doing" is a precious gift that is forever lost! And, this I promise to you: If you should happen to visit Crete while I am here, we will do something totally spontaneous...maybe a little reckless...we will take a chance...and then, we will sit down together and plant an almond tree!

Your Friend and Fellow "Silent Warrior",

Bob Armistead

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"Sixty" Watts (USAFSS-1955-58) said...

Bob, I think my Mom had the same thoughts as you stated...she looked after tomorrow while living today and when she passed away at 92, she had lived a full life and was satisfied...One of her favorite expressions was, "I have never seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse to the cemetary!" So, like others have said, both are correct!

"Sixty" Watts (USAFSS-1955-58) said...

Bob, I agree with your thought...My Mom would have agreed also as she lived life for both today but with an eye always to the future..Her favorite expression was "I have never seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse to the cemetary! She passed away at 92 never looking back but always looking forward...

Ed Watts (USAFSS-Germany, England, Libya, Turkey)

Anonymous said...

Was searching for this quote after watching "The Lie"..realizing this is an older post but in case anyone reads this later let me just add my humble opinion. After living the first 50 years of my life, two kids and a bad divorce, and now a disease that causes permanent nerve damage..let me just say the first philosophy is wrong. As good as it sounds, if you live like you'll never die you become stagnant, you begin to put things off until tomorrow, procrastinate. And then something happens and you can't catch up. I always thought I would have time to make up for my like you'll die tomorrow, what have you got to lose?

Anonymous said...

They're both correct. One projects the uselessness of worrying about the future while the other waste no time in the past. To incorporate both, you live for the "now"

Anonymous said...


It's not a matter of who is wrong, or who is right.

I think that Kazanzakis was trying to say that, even though we don't live forever, the only chance we have of being immortal, is through our work, and in some way our creativity.

The old man planted a a tree that the next generations will enjoy the fruits of. In a way he will go on living through the fruit that the tree bears.

jim carlin said...

the old man and Zorba both live true to their belief
what as great way to live!!!:)

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Anonymous said...

Both are correct: you should live as if you would never age, but also know that you COULD die at any minute. In other words, live as if you were an AMORTAL being--meaning not that you cannot die, but that you will not die if nothing besides natural death kills you. Thinking about planting an almond tree? Do it! The tree will one day be beautiful. Scared about talking to your crush? Do it as well! A car might run over you tomorrow and you will never have the chance.