When someone close to me once asked, “What are you afraid of most?” I told her “Pain.” But that wasn’t accurate. I should have said “Suffering” instead. Of all my fears, I fear suffering through life the most.
The things most worth living for—family, faith, and vocation—entail the most risk. That risk is the exposure of the wounded, isolated self to the wider world for criticism and rejection.
Is life a blessing or a curse? Is it to be cherished or endured? When asked in such a way, the answer is self-evident. Yet many of us choose to stagnate, whiling away our time on earth in fleeting pleasures, never venturing far from the comfortable or the routine, skipping opportunities to grow.
Eventually, time catches up to us. We’re locked in a cycle of personal shortcomings, lacking orientation to the future. The frustrations mount upon each other. If only we could get over ourselves, we could begin living a life worth living. As George Gilder writes in Men and Marriage:
It is not merely a desire for companionship or “growth.” It is a deeper alchemy of change, flowing from a primal source. It seeps slowly into the flesh, the memory, the spirit.
From it issues forth the courage to get out of our own way. Gilder continues:
The man who is in touch with his mortality, but not in the grips of it, is also in touch with the sources of his love. He is in contact with the elements—the natural fires and storms so often used as metaphors for his passions. He is a man who can be deeply and effectively changed. He can find his age, his relation to the world, his maturity, his future.
Gilder was writing about men and how they overcome their sexual isolation from society. The Ted Mosby and Barney Stinson characters in How I Met Your Mother are prime examples of pre-middle-aged men living glamorously. Yet we know, and so do they, behind the glossy women they take to bed and the late-night benders, they’re doing little more than waiting for life to really begin.
The lesson doesn’t apply only to men. In Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw and company jump from club to club, orgasm to orgasm, repeating to each other ad nauseum how sorry they feel for their pathetic married friends and how great it is to be an “independent woman.” The end of the series renders the ultimate verdict, however, as they all find true happiness in love and marriage.
The tragedy of a life not lived is relayed in this brutally honest autobiographical article by Claudia Connell in the Daily Mail. The gist of the article can be summed up in this revelation:
Freedom is great when you can exploit it; but when you have so much that you don’t know what to do with it, then it all becomes a little pointless.
Nevertheless, the 46 year-old Connell insists “being single still has some incredible upsides...”
If I had a family, I wouldn’t have been able to spend a month in Australia earlier this year, or a weekend shopping in Milan, and I would probably have felt too guilty ever to spend £3,000 on a rug (as I have just done).
In the greater context, what are these extravagances but the continuation of a selfish pattern inflated by personal wealth? Despite all the material comforts, she still lives alone in an empty house, trapped inside herself. She is suffering through life.