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MY STRUGGLE WITH ENTROPY

Entropy is one of those words that many people think they ought to know and don’t. One definition is “a gradual decline into disorder” (Google). When a system increases in entropy, it loses or dissipates energy. In many different ways my life is full of entropy right now, and a lot of energy must be expended to bring these things to an ordered state. It will probably take a long time, so I have to be patient with the situation.


My house is in a state of entropy right now, with a big construction project going on. We are having the oldest roof on the property fixed, which means a lot of dust and chaos, not to mention workmen walking in and out every day from about 8 a.m. (several times they have been surprised to be greeted by a 65-year-old foreign lady in her pajamas). There are piles of old tiles, pieces of wood both painted and unpainted, electric generators, sawhorses, ladders and so on all over the place, also a large wobbly scaffold for the workers to walk on when they climb up to the roof. Order cannot be restored until the work is finished and the workmen leave, probably in another two weeks or so.


Another area of entropy is the increase in family members. My son and his family have moved into our house, and of course there hasn’t been time yet to decide where their belongings should go, so most of the main part of the house is much more entropic than usual. Moreover, we can’t really restore order in the house until the construction is finished, because that area will be used for storage space. Most work in the countryside is like this, as is a lot of housework. Before you can do this, you have to do that. Sometimes one must go through five or six different jobs, like Russian nesting dolls, before the desired result is achieved.


On the larger world stage, we are all dealing with a huge amount of entropy in the form of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and its effects on our daily lives. The usual thought patterns of “go to the dentist”, “go to the hairdresser”, even “go to work”, to say nothing of “have coffee with my friends” or “visit my relatives” have been suspended for most people. No plans! No appointments! Time has expanded into an amorphous mass. Even if we don’t feel in any immediate danger, we must behave as if we were, for our own welfare as well as others’. This creates a lot of low-level stress – it is always in the back of our minds. Being in lockdown or “shelter in place” is a kind of disorder of our normal lives. When all this is over, we will have to find new and better ways of ordering our lives, friendlier and more mindful ones, learning from our experiences with this type of entropy.  


Even my individual body has its areas of increasing entropy. I have just passed my 65th birthday, which is a kind of milestone I guess; at any rate, I have started getting lots of mail from the local town hall saying that “now that I’m 65” I should be getting various medical checks etc. I am now also a pensioner! I will be getting a pension from the government starting as soon as they can process it. I am officially a senior citizen. My body has gotten this message as well. Like an old car, a lot of my parts are declining into disorder. I have a gallstone, slightly high blood pressure, knee problems, eye and ear function decline, and more – these are to be expected in a person my age. The biological age of the body, its life expectancy, is a considerably lower number of years than the artificial life expectancy we have fashioned for ourselves with modern medicine. The body is susceptible to entropy. Rather than fight and complain, I am trying to make friends with these changes. I believe that’s the only feasible and constructive way to approach them. But to achieve this, I have to let go of a lot of my preconceived ideas of myself as a physical person. I am no longer a person who can climb a lot of stairs without holding onto the banister. Nor can I raise myself any longer from a squat to a standing position without grabbing some support. These are only two examples of things I am having to get used to in my physical life; and it seems no amount of desire and effort will bring this particular system back to the order it enjoyed years ago when I was young.


Entropy is a natural state. Disorder naturally increases, the system gradually declines, unless energy is expended to maintain order. Anyone who has kept house knows this. A room, if it is not picked up and cleaned regularly, descends into a state of chaos. When many areas of life are experiencing entropy at once, a great deal of energy is required to bring them back to order. It feels like pushing a large stone uphill. Also, much mental energy is required to figure out the steps in which jobs should proceed. This is what I mean by the title, “my struggle with entropy”.


Sometimes I wish I could just wave a wand and everything would magically be put in order. Everything around me cries out to be returned to the kind of ordered state I am accustomed to. But there are only so many hours in the day and only so much strength to expend on putting things in order. I know it will only descend toward chaos again, and this knowledge itself is a drain on my energy. I love peace, quiet, and order, and right now I don’t have much. Even if I am not actively fixing or tidying or ordering something at any given moment, the necessity of doing so keeps me awake at night.


“This, too, shall pass.” One day, I hope before too long, I will have once again ascended the mountain of order and stand on top of it; the illusion of control over my life – parts of it, anyway – will be restored. Right now, however, my life resembles the chaos of a tilled field. The soil must be broken up before it can assume a new shape and bring forth new growth. As a farmer, I can relate to that.

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