Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Humblest Hour: Accounting to Oneself
For Having Fallen Short of Your Dreams

'The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.'
--the late Scottish author James M. Barrie, whose writing formed the basis for Peter Pan. The good news? You've got some time to bring those comparisons into a more favorable balance. So what are you waiting for?


At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Donna said...

My guess is that few people end up living life exactly as they had planned it out in their idealistic youth.

At risk of sounding unambitious, I think great peace is found in accepting your life as it turned out and not forever lamenting how it did not match your earlier projections.

Perhaps I place too much of a believe in a higher power, but I always figure that if I want something and don't get it, there's a divine reason behind that, that only God understands.

Then I try to find the beauty behind that which I have or have achieved. I would think those achievements are not necessarily inferior but, rather, different.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I'd heartily agree with all of this, Donna. As we mature, we tend to realize that the roads not taken were often not taken for some good reasons, and also that life has a way of throwing new opportunities at you that are more interesting and fullfilling than any you might have imagined on your own, or planned for.

At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Jane Levesque said...

This is a sobering quote, but I like Donna's response to it. My friend's mom likes to say, "There's your plan and there's God's plan. Which one do you think is going to happen?"
I've seen numerous people change their lives drastically as a result of something awful that happened. Once the difficult transition was over, they were happier than ever.

At 8:23 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Ah, the wisdom of friends' moms! Love that line of hers.

At 11:09 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

As the saying goes, "Want to hear God laugh? Tell him YOUR plans."

This is as much about childhood fantasy and expectations and imagination, all of which Barrie never lost when he supposedly grew up. It's not about failing to live up to one's dreams, it's about realizing that life will always take turns in directions you didn't expect. The choice becomes whether to go along with opportunities as they arise, or to fight to keep one's own plans intact. There are people who have succeeded following both paths, so I don't judge between them. Probably for most people it's a mix of never giving up on certain core dreams, and following opportunities on the other. I think a real issue is that people think choices are permanent, and lifelong, when they're not. People come to believe in their own limitations far too easily, and regret is born of believing we are somehow less than we really are, or should be. I think that form of regret is toxic; I don't have any time for it.

I remember as a boy that I was easy-going and accepting about a lot of things. But if there was something that really set me on fire, that really fascinated me, that I really wanted to do, or refused to do, no one could veer me from the choice I'd made, not my parents, not the school principal, nobody. My mother told me about some of instances somewhat later in life. I know I got in trouble for it sometimes, but it didn't happen very often. It took something that I REALLY cared about to trigger this, otherwise, I was easy to direct and guide. I'm still this way as an adult, I guess. So I see what Barrie is talking about, and I think it's sometimes true, but I also think it's full of hogwash.

The one thing one cannot afford to do, is carry around lots of regrets. They prevent one from living in the present, and from moving forward.

Barrie was in many ways a genius. Yet he was crippled in other ways by his sentimentality and nostalgia, and his inability to really grow up. That was his charm, and what made him a gifted storyteller, but it was also his deepest flaw.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

All wonderfully said, as always, Art. I did think that quote was all the more interesting in light of his having been the creator of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Some of what you say here reminds me of the wisdom inherent in the suggestion to always plan, but also always be ready to depart from the plan.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

Additional thought: There's a difference between a passive acceptance of "God's plan," a particular kind of theology I find cringeworthy at times, because it makes excuses and never goes very deep into the contemplation of "God's plan," it just stops discourse with folded hands. It's derived in fact from the theology of the absentee God, who set things in motion but appears to have disappeared afterwards, leaving us with no clues other than what we find in our hearts to find the path again. This kind of theology settles for not-knowing rather than unknowing; it stops too soon; whether or not it openly admits it, this theology assumes hidden forces in operation, concealed from our awareness. Paradoxically, that's how the unconscious mind often works, but when we talk about theology we have to be careful not to make excuses for a God whose actions we neither like nor understand but who we feel must be smarter than we are. What I don't like about this is that it gives away all responsibility and power to hidden actors and tells us to be non-participators in our own religious and psychological processes. Things happen TO us, not from us: we are universal victims, never actors. We have no will, and no responsibility. Now, that may be comforting to think I have no say in what happens to me, but it can also be a cop-out for refusing to TRY to have a say in what happens to me. You can't have the theological notions of free will and the Fall combined with passive acceptance, all at the same time, and avoid logical contradictions.

Submitting to the will of the divine does NOT mean we're supposed to be passive. It does mean we're supposed to actively pursue discovering what our particular part of the plan is supposed to be. This kind of passivity often appears in the face of Mystery, of unanswerable questions. It's a very simple kind of faith—which is no bad thing, as there's power in that kind of faith.

But submitting to some divine plan is not the same as "following the Tao," which is an active process of merging with the flow of events. It's more like wave-riding or body-surfing: you can try to punch through a wave of energy coming at you, or you can turn and try to ride it out, and see where it carries you. In other words, it's not submissive.

The language used here matters a great deal.

The typical, less thoughtful language used by many people when they talk about following God's plan is the language of sheepherding and hierarchy: it's about submission, passivity, subservience.

By contrast, the language of the Tao is about active participation, activity, alliance.

I also think of Jung's late letter to a woman who asked him the fundamental question of theodicy: "Why, if God is good, do bad things happen to good people?" Jung's answer, in brief, and I'm badly oversimplifying here, is that the Divine is continuing to evolve and individuate, just as we are; and we are part of that evolutionary process of God, which is not yet finished, not yet fixed, and does not have a clear outcome. God needs us as much as we need God, if not in the same ways. This is a rather Taoist/Hindu concept for a son of a preacher to conclude.

There are two great books that have been written about Jung's thoughts on theodicy:

Jung, "Answer to Job"


Janet O. Dallett, "The Not-Yet-Transformed God," which is a book-length meditation on Jung's letter. Dallett is one of the best writers I've ever encountered on the psychology of the religious experience, and how it matters very much to our daily lives.

At 11:30 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Jung is endlessly enlightening, as we've pointed out here several times in the past.

At 3:54 PM, Anonymous The Never Fairy said...

Just curious what you meant by "formed the basis for"? Barrie created Peter Pan, he wrote the original play which he made into a book.
And then his notes for more Pan adventure were found and turned into this:


At 3:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for the clarification. You have sharp eyes, commenter. I left myself a little wiggle room in that description, since the first two sources I checked seemed to depict the progression of this fictional character from the play to the book in a little more convoluted fashion than what you've indicated. And on a lazy summer Sunday, I wasn't about to spend any additional time fact-checking it (in part because I have the wonderful luxury of smart readers such as you to help with that task). You appear to know your stuff, so thanks for filling us in.

At 12:14 AM, Blogger Maria said...

I think there is a balance between accepting where one is at a certain place/time and recognizing the undone. I read this original post as a call to action. It's best (as I see it) to gently acknowledge the unfulfilled dreams and, if still possible, move toward them...and if not possible, adapt and accept.

At 9:18 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You said well, Maria. My sentiments precisely. Since the author in question here is a Scot, here's hoping his fellow Scot (and our occasional commenter) Jim Murdoch will share his thoughts about this. Is Barrie considered a major, minor or somewhere in between part of the Scottish canon of writers?


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