“You’ll ruin your life!”
I have objected to this phrase, commonly enough used by parents (and others) to admonish their recalcitrant children (and others), all of my adult life and even into my youth, so something over 40 years now. The only ruin a life will find is death, and even that might not be a ruin, depending on how well lived that life was. Certainly there are things a person can do that will permanently redefine the direction of that life. For example, young persons who, in a fit of rage, murders another person, and as a result ends up spending the remainder of that life in prison, has certainly changed the direction of that live in a manner that is unlikely to match very closely anything the individual ever hoped for or dreamed of. But is that life ruined? Isn’t it still a life, a life that might yet rise above its petty and benumbedi existence to genuinely mean something? A ruin is something that once was, but now only exists as a mere husk of its former glory. A life is something that is not over until it is over, regardless of whatever unexpected and (possibly) undesired twists and turns that occur in the process of that life.
The ancient Greeks had a saying: “Count no man happy until he is dead.” The point being that the quality of a life can turn at a moment, so that the most successful individual might suddenly be cast down from the pinnacle of success to utter “ruin.” One of the favorite tales along this line is that of Oedipus, who rises from the status of an abandoned orphan to the all powerful king of a great country. Unfortunately for Oedipus, he gets there by unwittingly murdering his own father, and marrying and having sex with his own mother, all following the iron-clad declarations of a deterministic prophecy that allowed for no deviation. He ends up a blind beggar wandering the countryside. Such were the vicissitudes of life in the ancient world, success was fragile and life was harsh. Yet, they might as easily have said, “count no man disappointed until he is dead.” For life’s struggles may be constant, yet our success in dealing with those struggles can be a story of heroism or failure at almost – almost – any level. Continue reading