Each Christmas eve I join a couple for lunch to celebrate our long friendship and to enjoy good conversation. On this occasion, the wife sighed, over her plate of macaroni and cheese, and said she was appalled that so many people believe the world is going to-hell-in- a-hand -basket . Why, she wondered, did they never stop to consider all that’s right with the world.
I had to agree. Too often we humans dwell on the negative rather than the positive. To prove the point, I told her a story about an acquaintance. He’s a retired dancer who so missed his former life, that for a time, he struggled to create his own dance company. Matters went badly, but on the strength of his efforts, he landed a key position with a large ballet company in Canada. I thought he should be happy and for a while he was. But over time, he forgot his good fortune and complained about the fatigue of touring and how much he missed his friends and family at home.
The couple listened to my story and then woman nodded. “That’s exactly what I mean.”
Days later, I came upon a review of a new biography by Penelope Niven entitled, Thornton Wilder: A Life. While reading it, that Christmas Eve discussion sprang to mind. (“The Chameleon” by Michael Dirda, Harper’s, 1/13 pgs 72 -78)
First, let me admit, I’ve never been a fan of Wilder’s. Some critics fault him for being too philosophical, but I feel his philosophy is too conventional, too safe.
I would have continued in this opinion were it not for Niven’s biography. In it she reviews a Wilder novel I’d never read: The Woman of Andros. During the course of the drama, one of the characters tells a story about a spirit who begs Zeus to return him to life. Eventually, Zeus agrees but grants the suppliant only a single day. Nonetheless, the spirit is overjoyed. Not an hour passes, however, before the spirit, now a man, becomes restless. He regrets his wish and pleads again for death. His request is granted a second time. Yet seconds before the fatal stroke descends, the man awakes to his true desire. Remorseful, he bends to the earth and kisses it. The moral of the tale? The heart may be conscious of its longing, but it is “not strong enough to love every moment.” (Ibid. pg. 74)
A profound thought and an honest insight. I will have to rethink Thornton Wilder.
(Courtesy of royhamric.wordpress.com)