Thursday, April 4, 2013
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
Henry David Thoreau (from Walden)
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Henry David Thoreau (from Civil Disobedience and Other Essays)
I don't know why but these words have haunted me all my life. I was introduced to them by Sr Aidan during my junior year of high school. I remember that the words struck me as sad and inevitable. I wanted somehow to avoid that fate but I suspect I was too young to even get what he was talking about. I was a reader and a writer and, even then, I was too reflective for my own good. Words like these carved themselves into my soul and I was never able to shake them.
Thoreau went off to Walden to live the simple life. He pared his days down to the bare essentials and he found happiness. Are the possessions we claim and the routes we take to gain those possessions the source of desperation? Maybe, at least in part. I think it's that resignation that truly does us in. If I resign myself to a life that is, for whatever reason, "less than", then I condemn myself to a life of desperation. I think quietly desperate lives are passive lives, lived in lukewarm days and empty nights.
I also think it's the easier path to live a life of desperation. I didn't say happier or more satisfying. I said easier. It takes work to push yourself out of your comfort zone. It takes hella energy to face obstacles, to look the truth straight in the eye and decide to change something. It's easy to compare yourself to others, find yourself lacking, decide you are not among the chosen few, and give yourself over to mediocrity. It's a lot easier to hang around waiting for something to happen rather than working to make something happen.
That was the voice of experience writing that last paragraph. Sometimes I find myself in what I think of as the ultimate desperation zone: that I have missed my chance at a stellar life, that I am too old now to be or do anything more of significance. It sounds rather pathetic as I read it out loud but it still feels true. Granted, with the help of good genetic material, a good partner parent, and a substantial helping of good luck I can say that my two children are significant gifts that I am giving to the world. And, yes, my years in public education were filled with passion and devotion to my community. But the offspring have sprung and I can feel in my (broken) bones that I am running out of steam for community service.
Will anything light my fire now?
How about you? Where are you on the desperation scale?