For this analytical, reflective piece, I am indebted to Rosy Cole's blog on compasses in life. The traditional compass provides direction relative to earth's magnetic pole. Metaphorically, one could say when various magnets in life create inner conflicts concerning which direcction to go, within our mortal limits, we typically choose the one with the strongest attraction and then must live with the consequencees; i.e., we "make our beds" and then must lie in them.
One category of choice centers on the relative merits of valuing what one has against something seemingly more "enticing" that one envisions. It's the old dichotomy of boring present realities vs. alluring dreams. Where I grew up in the midwest, we had several sayings favoring "staying put" and appreciating what one has rather than losing it for something different and more alluring/risky: "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" and "jumping from the frying pan into the fire." Rosy Cole cited the example of a bored, unfulfilled wife who jumped into the fire in pursuit of dreams.
Hers was a basic and common existential "scream" of which we've all heard many variations: "I need to be ME, find greater fulfillment and overall experience more of life's possibilities as a 'free spirit'", echoing the classic question in the golden oldie song lyric, "Is that all there is?" I appreciate the magnetic allure of such aspirations, having experienced and given in to some of them myself (e.g., I did not stay in the backwoods of my birth), and I'm fully aware as well of the popular cry "Go for it," but along with the greater possibilities, there's an element of the fatal attraction of the moth to the light and heat that can easily be one's undoing. Thus, what seemed the path to "glory" becomes the road to self-destruction and burn-out.
A select few, in their published writing (letters, autobiographies) affirm they've found that illusory pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But one could ask "was it real" or self-deceptive rationalizations protecting us from confronting unpleasant truths about our choices? [As for myself, after forays into the "unknown" during youth and mid-life, I've returned to the northwoods, both wiser and somewhat scarred.]
In contrast to the restless spouse above, Rosy Cole also cited the example of a War II military wife who opted to accept less than ideal conditions in her "frying pan." Midwestern oldtimers also had had a saying for her guiding compass or principle: "If left with lemons only, make lemonade." Her "straying" husband was a lemon of sorts. But given his active double life with a mistress that she discovered, he at least, to use other metaphors, far from being a dead battery, clearly had plenty of spark or charge left. So, she, in accepting him as he was, apparently recognized what was of value in him and built upon that to her ultimate credit (if one values faithfulness) and deserved reward. We could also say she "rolled with the punches" in life and persevered relatively unscathed if not renewed. Our existential condition is that we pick and choose during our "brief, shining moments," not being able to have all things, and then our time is over.
As an older person, who has survived many punches with some "spark" left, one tendency (for good or ill) I've noticed in some young people is an excess of impatience and dissatisfaction over perseverance. In my parents' time (Tom Brokaw's "greatest generation"), War II had devastating, lasting impacts on their lives. For example, not only were there the severe deprivations of the wartime conditions (rationing, shortages, separated and "stressed" families) but also the astronomical losses of precious loved ones. Adjusted upward for our smaller population then, these losses were the equivalent of some 4,000 PER WEEK today. Yet, our compass then enabled us to persevere in the conviction that it was our duty to confront Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and in the faith that the "sun also rises" on a new day.
Though in no way minimizing our much lower loss of life in the current wars on terrorism and in Iraq (aside from its element of "adventurism"), I found the deep discontent/outcry about some 4,000 losses over EIGHT YEARS as an unreasonable, almost unbearable sacrifice, to be quite a contrast, indeed, to the way my parents' generation persevered through both a crippling depression and overwhelming world war, all without notably complaining under these unbelievable greater sacrifices.
Thus our compass then was considerably steadier and stronger (from a traditional point of view) than whatever compass is guiding some people now. Thomas Paine, activist and admitted propagandist during our Revolutionary days, would have called them "summer" or "sunshine" patriots. Of course, the discontented/disaffected today would counter they are marching to a "different drummer," and one could argue as well for the merits of that perspective under a different scenario in modern times.
In concluding and returning to the initial inspiration of Rosy Cole's blog, the main value of it to all of us is drawing our attention to the value of having a moral/spiritual compass and persevering through challenges with faith and a love of life. In my opinion, one cannot go wrong with the guiding compass/principle of "love life and live it fully."
Causes Brenden Allen Supports