Good Sunday morning everyone (again…)
Most people, the vast majority in fact, lead the lives that circumstances have thrust upon them, and though some repine, looking upon themselves as round pegs in square holes, and think that if things had been different they might have made a much better showing, the greater part accept their lot, if not with serenity, at all events with resignation. They are like train-cars travelling forever on the selfsame rails. They go backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, inevitably, till they can go no longer and then are sold as scrap-iron. It is not often that you find a man who has boldly taken the course of his life into his own hands. When you do, it is worthwhile having a good look at him. – W. Somerset Maugham, The Lotus Eater
For months my husband has been telling me about The Lotus Eater, a short story by W. Somerset Maugham that he had read decades ago, but with which I was unfamiliar. Last evening, while I was fixing the sauce for green Chile Rellenos that he would assemble later, he read it to me from start to finish. It is a story about changing and remaining the same, about taking a risk in which there really is no risk, about knowing oneself without ever really getting at the truth. It is about the ways things look, the ways things seem, the way we want things to be, the way things are.
I’m preternaturally aware of the unpredictability of life, no doubt because my Dad died when I (and he) was very young, which changes things for a person. So too is my husband, no doubt because he is a surgeon and has seen life slip away before his eyes too many times.
But we respond to this unpredictability in different ways. While he challenges himself to learn and grow, he draws back where physical safety is concerned, thinking always of his children and not wanting them to lose a father the way I did. I, on the other hand, love to drive cross-country and fly small planes, acutely aware of the dangers yet protecting myself as much as I possibly can. He would prefer I do neither, but understands my love for that kind of freedom.
I’ve always had a fear of being a train-car going back and forth on the self-same track as Maugham describes, and so has everyone else I have ever met…if they’re being honest. How, where, why and when we take risks with our lives – perhaps too much risk – and how, where, why and when we play it safe – perhaps too safe – are the most interesting questions about human nature I personally can think of. What is the balance? How do we find it? How far do we have to travel to find our authentic selves?
After all, train tracks were laid in order to take us to places we’ve never visited so that we can enhance our lives. But we take ourselves with us wherever we go. There is a Lotus Blossom inside each of us, if we can only access it there. For others, it only can be found in some distant exotic place…like the Isle of Capri.
Here is a link to the intriguing The Lotus Eater if you are curious about a character named Thomas Wilson, who went to look for himself on one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Maugham is a wonderful writer and it’s worth the read.
Snow’s gone now. Sun’s out. Have a lovely day, everyone.
P.S. The Rellenos were a combined effort with a very yummy result. My husband had a beer, I had a glass of Prosecco and we watched Footloose of all things!