Somewhere in the world there is a defeat for everyone. Some are destroyed by defeat, and some made small and mean by victory. Greatness lives in one who triumphs equally over defeat and victory.Nietzsche famously wrote that which does not destroy me makes me stronger. That's almost certainly not true, but even if it is it's a cold comfort. Some tasks laid at our feet are hard, maybe hard unto death. Things that are easy leave no mark but we find ourselves branded - sometimes to our core - by the critically important but seemingly impossible. The Quest with no end in sight, that promises no victory, and maybe not even survival.
- John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights
If Woody Allen's dictum is true that eighty percent of life is showing up, we see around us people who didn't, or who did for a while and then stopped. Whether they are destroyed by defeat, or simply overwhelmed by a lifetime of trouble compressed into a few years, human strength has a limit. The unlucky among us will find that limit of our own strength - the lucky ones manage to get through without ever being tested to the breaking point. The question before us, as we gaze into that Abyss is what will we do, now at that critical moment?
Our heroes are those who keep going past that 80% mark. They are the ones who keep going, even in defeat and hopelessness. They are the ones who when the Quest looks broken and the end is upon them, they go forward anyway. Heroes are rare because it's not easy.
The purpose of religion is to put us in tune with what it is to be fully and completely human, as we would wish to be. To take the defeats and turn them to our own spiritual enlightenment. Those who do this we call saints.
The love for equals is a human thing--of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing--the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing--to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints.Nietzsche understood many things, but not saints. That's a hard road to walk, and most don't. We can learn from those that do, that despite the difficulty do it anyway. We can take what we learn from them and turn it around for our own Quest. Because in that unexpected persistence, even in the face of despair and defeat - especially in the face of despair and defeat - there we find heroes and saints.
- Frederick Buechner
There we find triumph, triumph of the soul.
It's easy to say this, and hard to do it. The eighty percent from showing up is just eighty percent, that last twenty percent sometimes feels like the other eighty percent. Sometimes the only company we have with us on that impossible road are the footprints of heroes and saints. Footprints left by those who when faced with as bad or worse as we are, did it anyway. Who even in defeat found triumph.
Holidays are a meditation, if we bother. The meditation of Easter is not the joyous renewal; we've been given a great gift, but now we need to ask ourselves what will we do with it. The hard slog begins again. But in that journey we walk with saints and heroes. May the walking be easy. If not, let it be a triumph.
UPDATE 8 April 2012 11:20: This is worth your while, saying the same thing, differently.