One’s Portion in Life

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

One doesn't have to look very far to encounter people whose fortunes in life are far less favourable than one's own. Looking out over these sometimes distressing fates it is difficult to allow oneself to become anxious about one's own lesser hardships. Nonetheless the universe is ultimately personal and our private reality defines our destiny whatever it may be. The thread which is common to the challenging experiences of both ourselves and others is the manner in which we address them.

The initial consequence of misfortune is customarily disappointment. This sentiment is at times aggravated by a general sense of bad luck as though the Fates have conspired to admonish us, sometimes as punishment (nemesis) for our great pride (hubris). Whatever the ramifications of such fortuity, it amounts to nothing more than an immediate search for the cause of the adversity. It is amusing how at moments like these we can become thoroughly philosophical, cultivating metaphors about crossed stars and elements of Greek and Roman mythology which make it inevitable that something unpleasant will happen. Characteristically the preoccupation is with the development of events outside a person's control, sometimes regarded as predetermined, as though the course of one's life is inevitable.


Eventually, however, these ideological sentiments give way to a random view of life's allotment. It is then that the work of coping begins even though it is may be an up-hill battle to distance oneself from and abandon a fixation with the calamity. Putting the event behind oneself is as much a part of relieving the disaster as anything else. Allowing the cause of one's personal misfortune to slip free enables one to proceed unencumbered, removing the risk of being further hindered and weighed down by it. While this may sound all too easily said, one need only consider the alternative, namely, what advantage is there in clinging to that which is past? In terms of pure reason, it makes no sense whatever to relive the moment of dashing hopes. Nor is there any legitimate possibility of reversing that which has happened as often as one might revisit the defining moment of disaster.

Life hastens along, bringing us with it no matter how reluctant or unconvinced. We regard our past like children looking out the back window of a speeding automobile at the receding landscape. It quickly becomes apparent that one must turn one's direction to the future if one is to remain alive. This may sound to be an overstatement, but allowing oneself to remain entrenched in the past is little short of death, or at the very least disability.

A clinical estimation of one's life is not an easy matter. Emotions tend to overwhelm our detached and objective view of the world. Nevertheless, it bears repeating that life is as neutral and yet as compelling as mathematics. Dealing with the numbers we have been dealt is what it is all about quite aside from the romanticism of a deity spinning the thread of our life or our notion of being seized by our fate. Even if it were so, we are bound to tackle what we have been handed. It is the removal of ourselves from the subjective arena that empowers us to proceed. Reduced to its elemental features, life is frequently not as difficult as it may otherwise appear. The binary system of mathematics comes to mind, similar to on and off, the yin and the yang, each representing mutually exclusive states or polarities. In short, you're either in or out.

Assuming that one opts for being "in", it behooves us to address our particular dilemma head-on. Given the complexity of the problems which some people face this is not always a colourless undertaking. However, one mustn't under any circumstances be defeated by the principle that "You Can't Get There from Here". Until the thread of our life is cut, we owe it to ourselves to carry on. For every hill we climb there is the prospect of sliding down the other side. Today's adversities can become tomorrow's victories. The skill is learning to rise above it all, accepting a view of the world that is both detached and willing, not personal and recalcitrant. We are merely the drawing board upon which is written one of life's stories. Granted, getting on the other side of a demanding situation is seldom fun. It exacts some fairly critical mental processes in the face of strong instinctive feelings. The reward is not merely slaying the dragon but nurturing our own finer qualities.

I think most of us have a sense of propriety when it comes to dealing with the ups and downs of life, as reluctant as we may be to do so. The bottom line is that we really haven't any choice in the matter, which I suppose is the blunt foundation of fate and the portion of life we've been given.