“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools...”
~ Rudyard Kipling, If
for Kipling's poem
were done by me
when I was 15.)
Open questions are investigative queries with which we must evolve. I refer to open as differentiated from open-ended. In the field of information sciences, the opposite of a closed-ended question is an enquiry that demands more than a statistical answer. Open-ended often implies a comparison, and surely more than a simple yes or no. But a matter that is entirely open may require protracted and lived research; there may not even be an apparent answer. The element of time can alter long-abiding questions. Over spans of years, I’ve mulled various advising words of parents and directives of teachers, walking with their meanings. In less abstract ways, I’ve seen myself change travel routes after better comprehending roads, highway systems, and compass directions. From the depths of spiritual life, why questions (“why am I here?”) have led to what questions (“what am I to do?”), then on to how questions (“how shall this happen?”), and when questions (“when does the terrain level off?”). Surveying the vast waters in all directions brings to mind questions of expectations.
When comparing long-held hopes with my lengthening road of lived findings thus far, I am brought to question all my expectations. Repeatedly high aspirations are repeatedly disappointed. Perhaps it is a question of standards, and perhaps some compromises must be made. But a descent to the latter would happen with heavyhearted reluctance. Only now, I’ve begun to weigh the double-edge of idealism. With hopes set very high, combined with ardent work ethics, those plunges that spiral unrequitedly down are deep drops. Yet I seem to insist upon holding fast to ideals, sure of their practicability.
("walk with kings and not lose the common touch.")
But idealism has some mixed connotations. Dictionary definitions dryly treat idealism as the opposite of realism. Granted, an idea often does stand in opposition to sensible reality. Still more, the ideal can float far beyond the conceptual idea itself. As looming summits of cascades, and distant islands of green, profoundest aspirations dwell enshrined. These are reference points with which sense, assessment, and correction can be sounded and fathomed- albeit without the power of ever attaining to the ideal’s perfection. What if there weren’t ideals? I dare say that would confine souls to a terribly uninspired rendition of limited and tangible realism. Idealism provides context to perceived reality. The deserted expanses and aridity in everyday life cause the soul to consider the spiritual to be the centrally vital factor in reality.
While I hold to ideals that elevate fairness, honesty, egalitarianism, artistic creativity, and holiness, there are no delusions as to their consistent practice and reciprocity. Idealism does indeed come with a warning label. There will be disappointments; they very well may occur at each and every turn. There may be every good reason to renounce those ideals and let cynicism prevail. But I will do no such thing. Remembering Kipling’s immortal poem, “If,” though I’ll make allowance for doubting, I’ll continue to wait and not be tired by waiting, will not deal in lies, or give way to hating, but rather persevere even in defeat to start again at my beginnings. Too clearly in prominent thoughts are fellow idealists, such as my friends who live the monastic community life. Their commitments to their sacred ideals exceed whatever trials they have. I’ve been ceaselessly impressed at how they are able to keep all their routines and rituals fresh and new. Then I recall St. James’ guideline about embodying generosity while keeping oneself unpolluted by the world.*
Much has filled my sights to give me more conflicts to sift through. In response, my abilities to filter and discern must proportionately increase. Emerging from my thoughts in recent weeks is whether or not idealism and maturity are divergent roads. Can noble and benevolent aspirations superimpose with experience and growth? I wonder how to continue aligning these threads. Struggle mustn’t necessarily produce callousness. Neither should isolation. Too often a by-product of professional elitism is the harming of its respective profession. Titles frequently tend to dissuade their contents. Educators that claim highest formal credentials ironically lead the charge to remove manual skills from our hands. Professional license, it seems, paves ways to discard reading and practical arts without challenge. In a further show of irony, pastorates assuming leadership in spiritual communities notoriously cannot communicate or foster community spirit. Perhaps the status of “seasoned pro” requires desensitization. There are surely downsides to Babel-like structures that excessively formalize. I’m reminded of how my childhood classmates and I decided to opt out of little leagues because we wanted to enjoy playing baseball. Nothing like a childlike mind to see through artifice.
("risk a heap of winnings to lose and start again.")
As we develop our intellectual lives, continue to grow, and sense the Spirit within, our ideals form in a naturally cultivated parallel. Just as goals are wished for, they are tested; and amidst the trials that accumulate with advancing forays into the world, these aspirations are endangered. During sojourns through thickest Maine forests, I’ve admired how wildflowers such as “lady’s slippers” persistently emerge brightly through dark cover. Expectations of goodness and innocence early in life are endangered flora. Setbacks, easily leading to jaw-setting embitterment, can equally be steered into cultivating heart-courage. Schoolyard smirks, putdowns, and injurious bullying find their harvests in adult-sized sniping, pessimism, and injustice. With gained experience and years, countless jaded souls have crossed my path and offered me their wares. Many, from childhood to the present, are notably memorable: not just their voices, but the many varieties of what’s-the-use shrugging. Very early on, the I-don’t-cares and the so-whats ignited an inner wariness. I’ve found the same suspicion and repellent to be both necessary and applicable. Insensitivity corrupts the human spirit.
Is the state of being jaded inherent in the maturing process? Must weariness and dulling of spirit manifest as matters of course? Conversely, is idealism equivalent to immaturity? Venturing forth surely implies complex navigation through hostile territory. Holding one’s line against “invasions” to hopes and faith can self-negate. The collateral damage includes exhaustion and an odd sense of doubt as to the worth of vigilantly forging ahead. Believing the pilgrimage toward holiness is worthwhile is an ideal that resists erosive aspects that accumulate on a daily basis. During my packing up to leave home, at the age of 17, my mother gave me some drawing and painting materials to take with me to art college. She told me that it’s good to know how to compromise, but that I must never compromise my convictions. An ideal with which to be guided, both in general situations and through defeats. Knowing what to do with amassing disappointments means not allowing them to amount to disillusionment.
open questions : evolving answers
("don't look too good, nor talk too wise.")
“L’idéal, voilà l’échelle mysterieuse qui fait monter l’âme du fini, à l’infini” wrote French philosopher Victor Cousin, in “Du Vrai, du Beau, et du Bien.” This is to say, “The ideal is the mysterious ladder of ascent for the soul to advance from the finite to the infinite.” Without having an answer to the questions connecting maturity to cynicism, I will connect idealism with perseverance. Remembering my friends who live consecrated lives, I’ll add the questions about how daily life can remain always new to a soul. The vitality of pursuing holiness and generosity implies the pursuit of ideals, and I expect to continue on. But I also know the hazards of running contrary to the grain of rationalism. Yet another question regards purposefully being somewhat naïve to the wheel-and-deal world of “leveraging” every possible activity and interest into monetary units. Guarding and holding fast to ideals also means pursuing and upholding them, too. Lamps are meant to be held high, even while reckoning with expectations that force low ceilings. I insist upon expecting much, and impatiently so.
Finally, during a recent lunch hour in a public atrium, I overheard a man complain to his tablemates and say, “I guess you have the right to be miserable, when you get older.” Indeed, I added that declarative to my journal-writing. Well, he is quite correct in his claim to his civil right, but I’ll try not to connect the two aspects as intertwined inevitabilities. An idealist would not permit compounded disappointments to simmer the soul into a quiet acceptance of “the way things must be.” That would be too easy, and more days wouldn’t be needed to disprove such compromised convictions.
("hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says: ‘Hold on!’")
* James 1:27