I’ve always known that life is messy. It’s a concept that’s addressed through countless books and film and reinforced through personal experience. It’s a known fact. Yet, what I’m starting to wonder is how much of this inkblot is due to my own making. Let me explain.
As a writer and student of literature, I have always been taught to look for subtext. “Not everything is as it seems.” It is always more than meets the eye, deeper meanings hidden behind people and places and stories. Connotations. It’s the subtle nuances behind words and the contexts in which they are placed that allow us to arrive at the same destination and come to different conclusions. When I apply this sort of thinking beyond books and into the realm of life, I tend to look at my life as a story. The idea itself isn’t much of a stretch–after all, our lives are punctuated by the very conflicts, climaxes and resolutions from which our art is derived. Nor is it a wrong to think in this manner–in fact, more of us need to be aware of our place in the bigger picture.
Rather, what I am mainly addressing here is the problem that arises when one is not only aware his life is a story but begins to force elements into the story that do not belong. In other words, you begin to imagine the progression of your life and determine proudly to construct a conclusion by which it is the only way your story can end. For instance, if I believe I am supposed to find love like it is found in fairy tales, then I will sit at the coffee shop and wait for the “love at first sight” moment. In this case, I will not allow love to happen, perhaps more practically and less “romantically”, through online dating, set-ups, or the like–though it could very well be that is where you were meant to find it.
The chief issue is this–you want to be in control of your own story. You demand the pen. You want to write it. You want to shape your own plot, be the captain of your own ship. Thoreau novelized it with his beat of my own drummer ideology. Granted, who does not desire this sort of freedom? I do. In fact, I live most of my days as though this is true.
The problem is we are not capable of the task. You and I are no more capable of writing our own stories than a puppet is in creating his own speech. There are many things that fall out of my jurisdiction. I cannot control the stock market, my health, or even the people with whom I’m living. There are so many factors that are connected to life, why things do and do not happen. (How much of my life is reactionary as opposed to initialized?) It is nice to think that I have some semblance of freedom, of self-determinism, but in the end, as Shakespeare so tenderly puts it, “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.”
If so, then maybe the goal in life isn’t so much about trying to break rank as it is about discovering what our roles are in this grand play. Am I Horatio trying to play the part of Hamlet? Or have I been cast merely in the background? Our confusion and failures lie in the possibility that we have denied who we were meant to be, what we were meant to do, with the talents and passions uniquely gifted to us, and rather tried to indulge in fantasies shaped by comfort and safety. The issue is not that we are too ambitious but that we are not truly aware of our role and our purpose.
I once thought that being the captain was divine until I realized that I had no clue as to where I was going or how I’d get there. I was shipwrecked, before being found by a greater Captain, one who knows the way to True North and brought me on board to join his grand adventure.
Yes, I’m merely a sailor. It sounds less exciting than captain, more dutiful than daring. But I rather be a sailor on a ship towards paradise than command my own boat to wreckage. In the end, I trust that the beauty which I will have experienced in the journey and destination will prove my rightful surrender.