Most of us today, I think, find it easier to formulate our disbeliefs than our beliefs. I certainly do. For instance, I know that I don’t believe in the Nicene Creed. Again, it seems to me evident that there is no such thing as progress—whether automatic or contrived—in human affairs, and that man’s present condition is essentially as it ever has been and ever will be.
The human situation, that is to say, is changeless because man is changeless. Man, a creature imperfect by nature but capable of conceiving perfection. A creature born to exist in time while envisaging eternity. His passion, his will, drags him down to earth; his imagination, his soul, makes him a spar to escape from the limitations of mortality. Such is his inescapable plight.
To me, the most moving of all allegories is the one in which Plato likens the human situation to that of man confined in a dungeon, who yet can glimpse, without comprehending, the daylight outside and the shadows of those who pass to and fro in it. I believe then that earthly life is a stage in a larger pilgrimage. It’s part of a journey, whose beginning and whose destination are alike unknown, but whose purpose is beneficent.
With this certainty, I’m content to endure. I hope and pray without recourse, either to corroding self-deception nor to sniveling self-pity, its ardors, disappointments, and terrors. And to enjoy to the full those moments of happiness, which come so unaccountably and pass so soon.
Once I saw a man engaged in rolling through India’s dust from the Himalayas to Cape Comeran. The whole enterprise was expected to take about ten years. He oddly resembled a millionaire I once met, who was engaged in piling up wealth and duodenal ulcers to the exclusion of all other interests and pursuits. However minute a fragment life may be in relation to the whole of which it’s a part, it still bears a valid relation to the whole. “All the world in a grain of sand,” Blake said. Yes, and all eternity in a single moment. Either everything is worthwhile or nothing is. Either life is worth living in all circumstances, or it’s never worth living.
I believe that it’s worth living in all circumstances, whether one is sick or well, whether one is rich or poor, whether one belongs to an expanding or declining society or civilization. It’s a great temptation—especially in times like these of confusion and disruption—to take refuge in dreams of a golden age that once was or that’s soon to be. All golden ages—in the past or to come—are, I’m convinced, fraudulent. And their pursuit, like the pursuit of happiness, is liable to end in a disastrous rush to extinction.
I take comfort in the robust words of Bunion’s pilgrim: “Some have wished that the way to their father’s house were here, that they might be troubled no more with either hills or mountains to go over. But the way is the way, and there is an end.”