8 January 2014

The Immutability of Our Lot

A. C. Benson, The Silent Isle (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), p. 74:
I felt that the thing one ought to aim at doing was to look experience steadily in the face, whether sweet or bitter, to interrogate it firmly, to grasp its significance. If one cowers away from it, if one tries to distract and beguile the soul, to forget the grief in feverish activity, well, one may succeed in dulling the pain as by some drug or anodyne; but the lesson of life is thereby deferred. Why should one so faint-heartedly persist in making choice of experiences, in welcoming what is pleasant, what feeds our vanity and self-satisfaction, what gives one, like the rich fool, the sense of false security of goods stored up for the years? We are set in life to feel insecure, or at all events to gain stability and security of soul, not to prop up our failing and timid senses upon the pillows of wealth and ease and circumstance. The man whom I entirely envy is the man who walks into the dark valley of misfortune or sickness or grief, or the shadow of death, with a curious and inexpressible zest for facing and interrogating the presences that haunt the place. For a man who does this, his memory is not like a land where he loves to linger upon the sunlit ridges of happy recollection, but a land where in reflection he threads in backward thought the dark vale, the miry road, the craggy rift up which he painfully climbed; the optimism that hurries with averted glance past the shadow is as false as the pessimism that hurries timidly across the bright and flowery meadow. The more we realise the immutability of our lot, the more grateful we become for our pains as well as for our delights. 
Caspar David Friedrich, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)