I am comforted this morning by the words of G.K. Chesterton. His biography of Charles Dickens, composed in an easy, tangential style, pauses in its discussion of Dickens’ psychological response to his boyhood trials to remark:
“It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is preeminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst. There is nothing that so much mystifies the young as the consistent frivolity of the old. They have discovered their indestructibility. They are in their second and clearer childhood, and there is a meaning in the merriment of their eyes. They have seen the end of the End of the World.”
On a morning when medical bills, car troubles, and a slew of unanswered questions about the future are weighing heavily on my heart, these lines reminded me that, yes, I’m still young! I’m not burdened today because I’m moronic, incompetent, or the victim of some vengeful god (and it’s tempting to view all trials as a form of divine punishment). No, I feel discouraged because this is a stage on my journey to maturity. Eventually, I, too, will possess the inspiration of the middle age. I’ll know that the end of the world is an event to anticipate with joy, and not the punched-in-the-gut feeling that accompanies a glance at in-patient hospital fees.
Emily Dickenson would have me think of hope as “the thing with feathers / that perches on the soul.” But no feathered inspiration can wing me away from the responsibilities that face me now.As my husband and I venture into the realm of independent adulthood, along a path littered with obstructions, this bird-like virtue, and the lightness of heart it supposedly brings, remain elusive. Chesterton seems to suggest, though, that it won’t always be this way. I’ll trust in that for now, and call the mechanic again.