Sunday, September 27, 2009
The Life of Promises
And all the promises and their fulfillment are symbolic of the great promise, made to him by everyone, that he will grow and change. This great promise he takes into himself in the form of a pledge - made to himself and to everyone - that he will grow and change for the better. He takes it into himself too in the particular form of his vision of time, in which the future is always brighter and more spacious than the present. How the mind of the fortunate young man is presided over by the future! It is his mark, his Muse – for it is feminine in its seductiveness- and sets him apart from the young men of the truly lower class and from the young men of the truly upper class.
What happened to Laskell, all at once, was that he realized that you couldn’t live the life of promises without yourself remaining a child. The promise of the future might have its uses as a way of seducing the child to maturity, but maturity itself meant that the future and the present were brought together, that you lived your life now instead of preparing and committing yourself to some better day to come.
His new perception of the nature of time struck him with very great force. Yet it was not specially startling. The only thing that was startling about it was that it came so suddenly…
It was not painful – or no more painful than the change that had taken place when, at a certain age, the special and mysterious expectation of Christmas and birthdays was no longer appropriate and his parents began to give him his gifts quite as a matter of course, most affectionately still, but without their eyes shining in excitement of seeing their son’s wonder and impatience being now satisfied and even exceeded by reality; or just as going to the theater was no longer a matter of waiting for that blessed Saturday on which would be revealed Annette Kellerman in the tank or Charlotte on the ice but became a simple transaction, a call to the ticket agency, with no interval, if one didn’t want an interval, between the decision to go to the theater and going.
It was not a gay feeling, this change in the character of the relation between present and future, but it was certainly not an unhappy one. The well-loved child of the middle class had always done everything with an exemption granted, for the future was made not only of promises but also of opportunities for forgiveness and redemptions, and second or third chances..
… he found that his odd idea about the future and the present brought its own heroism. It had a kind of firm excitement or excited firmness that was connected with his feeling that at this very moment he had the full measure of existence – now, at this very moment, now or never, not at some other and better time that lay ahead. If at this moment he did not have the simplicity of character he wanted, he would never have it; if he was not now answerable for himself, he would never answer.
Lionel Trilling - The Middle of the Journey