I bought a book of Mark Twain quotes recently, and this one really hit me:
“We are strange beings, we seem to go free, but we go in chains – chains of training, custom, convention, association, environment – in a word, Circumstance – and against these bonds the strongest of us struggle in vain.”
I both agree and disagree with this bit of theology. I mostly agree – we are in chains throughout our lives, to one degree or another. And most of those chains are taught and learned. How many things would we truly feel guilty about were it not for society telling us it is wrong? If not society, than religion. We are free to exist on this earth but we are not free to be human; we are not free to express so much of what our humanity allows us, compels us even, to feel and experience. Hide your feelings – show your feelings – love less – love more – do not covet – care more about your neighbor. I could go on and on with juxtaposition after juxtaposition. We are bound from the moment of birth, as soon as the teaching begins and the constraints are placed.
What I disagree with is this – is the struggle in vain? The weak and the strong struggle with this in unison, do they not? And it is not a battle that is only for the strong. Honestly, I have seen many a strong one fall while the weak rise up and march forward. It may all be in vain, I don’t know. But I would like to think that enduring the struggle, not backing down, that it can add to who you are and give you a deep humanity like nothing else.
I wrote once about how trauma and tragedy can either harden or soften you. (What Did Trauma Do To You?). What I didn’t realize then is that perhaps it can do both. Perhaps it is a journey from one to other and back again. Perhaps the struggle helps you find some kind of balance between the two. I went from too soft before trauma, to too hard after, and now I am somewhere in between, the trauma helped me find a compassion and understanding for others that I never would have known otherwise. So, is the struggle in vain? I don’t believe so – if we can just find our way through it and allow ourselves to see a deeper meaning than what life shoves in our faces.
There will always be chains, none of us is immune. The difference is who lets those chains drown them and who stays afloat in spite of them. The strength is in the staying afloat.