It Was the Worst of Times....
It is interesting how things come full circle during one's life. This process involves seeing things that one either missed or did not fully appreciate years ago. Therefore, in the sunset of one's life, one sees the light for more clearly. In addition, one is able to connect the dots as one looks back upon many decades. Finally, one is able to understand the dichotomy of life being filled with the good and bad times of life and the relationship between them.
Over a half century ago, I had to memorize hundreds of lines of poetry or prose in my high school English classes. I hated that requirement as a teenager. Nonetheless, I have benefitted from remembering many of those lines and applied their wisdom during to my adult life. The poetry and prose that were committed to memory explain life in a poetic or lyric manner. One portion of prose that I memorized was the opening sentence of Charles Dickens' epic novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
I mentioned to Mrs. Davis, my English teacher during my senior year, that A Tale of Two Cities has an extremely long opening sentence. My fear was that I might stumble over the latter parts of that sentence. Therefore, as an attempt to be funny before reciting it, I said that Dickens' sentence was more like the opening paragraph. Mrs. Davis insisted upon perfect memorization from her students not a sense of humor. I was able to get the first part out correctly but did stumble over the remainder of the sentence.
A Tale of Two Cities compares and contrasts Paris and London around the time of the French Revolution. It tells the story of the class wars between the rich and the poor. However, the Reign of Terror's lifestyle of suffering and death is seen in direct opposition to a renewed and resurrected life. It was indeed a time of suffering and despair while hope and joy was also seen. Dickens replicated that paradox throughout the entire novel.
Beyond the definition of good and bad, there lies a recognition that how we face life and grow must come from the process of wrestling with that paradox. Dickens uses several sets of yin yang words including light/darkness, rebirth/death, and spring of hope/winter of despair in order to flesh out the dichotomy of the good and bad times. Interestingly, Dickens' original title of his novel was Recalled to Life.
While Dickens employs the combinations of opposites, he names some characters in his novel in a most subtle way to convey that same paradox. Lucy is life and light, while Madame Defarge is death and darkness, which is his literary style to reinforce that tension between the good and bad.
Throughout A Tale of Two Cities, there is also the dichotomy between the societal and personal wrestling with the good times and bad times. To paraphrase Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." a lot like the present in which we are torn between global and personal good and bad times. In all cases, while we do not have to look for bad times, they will arrive without any effort on our part. Regardless, we need to address and recognize the bad times more fully to appreciate the good times. There is always that tension.
In a couple of weeks, I will be celebrating the 72nd naissance of beginning my journey through life. While the first year was spent attempting to crawl, my Grandfather Oakford watched over me as I began toddling, and my Grandfather Campbell protected me in the surf....
In those many decades, I have journeyed far down my yellow brick road and experienced the dichotomy the good and bad times in life. I have had the misfortune of dancing with death twice due to a fall and cancer. Let me assure you, I would not like to go through either again. However, the bad times allow you to appreciate the good times. It was a blessing that I experienced dancing with death. It allowed me to come alive.
Dancing with death awakened me to the reality that I am mortal. Once that reality impacted my mind, I was able really to live...and not merely breathe. While I never looked for suffering, I would not delete those experiences from my journey. It did resurrect me and give me new life. I am more alive, driven, and wired today than ever before.
Steve Jobs said essentially the same thing. "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.... No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent."
This is a video of A Tale of Two Cities.
This is Steve Jobs' complete commencement address.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.