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SHIPS AND HAVENS
II. WITHER BOUND?
I want to talk with you about this question in this little book, as a writer may talk with a reader across the unknown intervals of time and space. The book that does not really speak to you is not worth much. And unless you really hear something, and make some kind of an answer to it, you do not truly read.
There is a disadvantage, of course, in the fact that you and I do not know each other and speak face to face. Who you are, into whose hands this book has come, I cannot tell. And to your, I am nothing but a name. Where you may be, while you turn these pages, I cannot guess, perhaps you are sitting in your own quiet room after a hard day's work; perhaps you are reading aloud in some circle of friends around the open fire; perhaps you are in the quiet woods, or out in the pleasant orchard under your favorite tree; perhaps you are actually on the deck of a ship travelling across the waters. It is strange and wonderful to think of the many different places into which the words that I am now writing in this lonely, book-lined study may come and of the many different eyes that may read them.
But wherever you are, and whoever you may be, there is one thing in which you and I are just alike, at this moment, and in all the moments of our existence. We are not at rest; we are on a journey. Our life is not a mere fact; it is a movement, a tendency, a steady, ceaseless progress towards an unseen goal. We are gaining something, or losing something, every day. Even when our position and our character seem to remain precisely the same, they are changing. For the mere advance of time is a change. It is not the same thing to have a bare field in January and in July. The season makes the difference. The limitations that are childlike in the child are childish in the man.
Everything that we do is a step in one direction or another. Even the failure to do something is in itself a deed. It sets us forward or backward. The action of the negative pole of a magnetic needle is just as real as the action of the positive pole. To decline is to accept — the other alternative.
Are you richer to-day than you were yesterday? No? Then you are a little poorer. Are you better to-day than you were yesterday? No? Then you are a little worse. Are you nearer to your port to-day than you were yesterday? Yes, — you must be a little nearer to some port or other; for since your ship was first launched upon the sea of life you have never been still for a single moment; the sea is too deep, you could not find an anchorage if you would; there can be no pause until you come into port.
But what is it, then, the haven towards which you are making? What is the goal that you desire and hope to reach? What is the end of life towards which you are drifting or steering?
There are three ways in which we may look at this question, depending upon the point of view from which we regard human existence.
When we think of it as a work, the question is, "What do we desire to accomplish?"
When we think of it as a growth, a development, a personal unfolding, the question is, "What do we desire to become "
When we think of it as an experience, a destiny, the question is, "What do we desire to become of us?"
Do not imagine for an instant that these questions can be really separated. They are interwoven. They cross each other from end to end of the web of life. The answer to one question determines the answer to the others. We cannot divide our work from ourselves, nor isolate our future from our qualities. A ship might as well try to sail north with her jib, and east with her foresail, and south with her mainsail, as a man to go one way in conduct, and another way in character, and another way in destiny.
What we do belongs to what we are; and what we are is what becomes of us.
And yet, as a matter of fact, there is a difference in these three standpoints from which we may look at our life; and this difference not only makes a little variation in the view that we take of our existence, but also influences unconsciously our manner of thinking and speaking about it. Most of the misunderstandings that arise when we are talking about life come from a failure to remember this. We are looking at the same thing, but we are looking from opposite corners of the room. We are discussing the same subject, but in different dialects.
Some people — perhaps the majority — are of a practical turn of mind. Life seems to them principally an affair of definite labor directed to certain positive results. They are usually thinking about what they are to do in the world, and what they are to get for it. It is a question of occupation, of accomplishment, of work and wages.
Other people — and I think almost all serious-minded people when they are young, and life still appears fresh and wonderful to them — regard their existence from the standpoint of sentiment, of feeling, of personality. They have their favorite characters in history or fiction, whom they admire and try to imitate. They have their ideals, which they seek and hope to realize. Some vision of triumph over obstacles, and victory over enemies, some model of manhood or womanhood, shines before them. By that standard they test and measure themselves. Towards that end they direct their efforts. The question of life, for them, is a question of attainment, of self-discipline, of self-development.
Other people — and I suppose we may say all people at some time or other in their experience — catch a glimpse of life in still wider and more mysterious relations. They see that it is not really, for any one of us, an independent and self-centred and self-controlled affair. They feel that its issues run out far beyond what we can see in this world. They have a deep sense of a future state of being towards which we are all inevitably moving. This movement cannot be a matter of chance. It must be under law, under responsibility, under guidance. It cannot be a matter of indifference to us. It ought to be the object of our most earnest concern, our most careful choice, our most determined endeavor. If there is a port beyond the horizon we should know where it lies, and how to win it. And so the question of life, in these profound moods which come to all of us, presents itself as a question of eternal destiny.
Now, if we are to understand each other, if we are to get a view of the subject which shall be anything like a well-rounded view, a complete view, we must look at the question from all three sides. We must ask ourselves: What is our desired haven, first, in achievement; and second, in character; and last, in destiny?
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