Saturday, November 24, 2007

To see a life back to front

Odd, how our view of human destiny changes over the course of a lifetime. In youth we believe what the young believe, that life is all choice. We stand before a hundred doors, choose to enter one, where we're faced with a hundred more and then choose again. We choose not just what we'll do, but who we'll be. Perhaps the sound of all those doors swinging shut behind us each time we select this one or that one should trouble us, but it doesn't. Nor does the fact that the doors often are identical and even lead in some cases to the exact same place. Occasionally a door is locked, but no matter, since so many others remain available. The distinct possibility that choice itself may be an illusion is something we disregard, because we're curious to know what's behind that next door, the one we hope will lead us to the very heart of the mystery. Even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary we remain confident that when we emerge, with all our choosing done, we'll have found not just our true destination but also its meaning. The young see life this way, front to back, their eyes to the telescope that anxiously scans the infinite sky and its myriad possibilites. Religion, seducing us with free will while warning us of our responsibility, reinforces youth's need to see itself at the dramatic center, saying yes to this and no to that, against the backdrop of a great moral reckoning.

But at some point all of that changes. Doubt, born of disappointment and repetition, replaces curiosity. In our weariness we begin to sense the truth, that more doors have closed behind than remain ahead, and for the first time we're tempted to swing the telescope around and peer at the world through the wrong end--though who can say it's wrong? How different things look then! Larger patterns emerge, individual decisions receding into insignificance. To see a life back to front, as everyone begins to do in middle age, is to strip it of its mystery and wrap it in inevitability, drama's enemy. Or so it sometimes seems to me, Louis Charles Lynch. The man I've become, the life I've lived, what are these but dominoes that fall not as I would have them, but simply as they must?

--Richard Russo, The Bridge of Sighs


  1. Oh, I really liked this one!

  2. You speak for all of us, of course - though some may not realise it yet. It may be the case that, thinking bak to the days of our youth, few (or fewer) doors are open to us now, but I find it reassuring to remember that one is enough. How many doors can a guy go through at any one time? Or am I being a touch romantic, a wee bit too optimistic? Maybe, for your prose impresses me greatly. I wish it didn't!
    D.K. ( )

  3. I am thinking I need to get this one. Thank you for this post.

  4. This is beautiful prose, and it speaks to the place that I currently find myself (just turned 40 this summer). :)


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

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