WISDOM AND DESTINY

Misery is the disease of mankind, as disease is the misery of man. And even as there are physicians for disease, so should there be physicians for human misery.
Humanity up to this day has been like an invalid tossing and turning on his couch in search of repose; but therefore none the less have words of true consolation come only from those who spoke as though man were freed from all pain. Let us hope that one day all mankind will be happy and wise. And in any event, it is helpful to speak of happiness to those who are sad, that thus at least they may learn what it is that happiness means.
Our own experience has taught us that even in this world of reality there exist dreams and desires, thoughts and feelings of beauty, of justice, and love, that are of the noblest and loftiest. Many things happen that seem unjust to us; but of all the achievements of reason there has been none so helpful as the discovery of the loftier reason that underlies the misdeeds of nature. It is from the slow and gradual vindication of the unknown force that we deemed at first to be pitiless, that our moral and physical life has derived its chief prop and support. If a race disappears that conforms with our every ideal, it will be only because our ideal still falls short of the grand ideal, which is, as we have said, the intimate truth of the universe.
As you climb up a mountain towards nightfall, the trees and the houses, the steeple, the fields and the orchards, the road, and even the river, will gradually dwindle and fade, and at last disappear in the gloom that steals over the valley. But the threads of light that shines from the houses of men and pierce through the blackest of nights, these shine on undimmed. And every step that you take to the summit reveals but more lights, and more, in the hamlets asleep at your foot. Thus it is with our moral light too, when we look upon life from some slight elevation. It is well that reflection should teach us to disburden our soul of base passions; but it should not discourage, or weaken, our humblest desire for justice, for truth, and for love.
The life of most men will be saddened or lightened by the thing that may chance to befall them. Whatever may happen is lit up by their inward life. When you love, it is not your love that forms part of your destiny; but the knowledge of self that you will have found, deep down in your love—this it is that will help to fashion your life. If you have been deceived, it is not the deception that matters, but the forgiveness whereto it gave birth in your soul, and the loftiness, wisdom, completeness of this forgiveness—by these shall your life be steered to destiny’s haven of brightness and peace; by these shall your eyes see more clearly than if all men had ever been faithful. But if, by this act of deceit, there have come not more simpler, loftier faith, wider range to your love, then have you been deceived in vain, and may truly say nothing has happened.
Let us always remember that nothing befalls us that is not of the nature of ourselves. There comes no adventure but wears to our soul the shape of our everyday thoughts; and deeds of heroism are but offered to those who, for many long years, have been heroes in obscurity and silence. And whether you climb up the mountain or go down the hill to the valley, whether you journey to the end of the world or merely walk round your house, none but yourself shall you meet on the highway of fate.
As we go deeper down into life we discover the secret of more and more sorrow and helplessness. We see that many souls round us lead idle and foolish lives, because they believe they are useless, unnoticed by all, unloved, and convinced they have nothing within them that is worthy of love.
The inner life, perhaps, is not what we deem it to be. There are as many kinds of inner lives as there are of external lives. Into these tranquil regions the smallest may enter as readily as he who is greatest, for the gate that leads thither is not always the gate of the intellect.
There are some that, bereft of initiative or of intelligence, never discover the path that leads into themselves, and are never aware of all that their refuge contains; and yet will their actions be wholly the same as the actions of those whose intellect weighs every treasure. There are some who desire only well, though they know not wherefore they desire it, and have no suspicion that goodness is the one fixed star of loftiest consciousness. The inner life begins when the soul becomes good, and not when the intellect ripens. It is somewhat strange that this inner life can never be formed out of evil. No inner life is for him whose soul is bereft of all nobleness.
Men of inferior degree, it is true, is not given to judging themselves, and therefore fate passes judgment upon them. They are the slaves of a destiny of almost unvarying sternness, for it is only when man has been judged by himself that destiny can be transformed. Men such as these will not master, or alter within them, the event that they meet; nay, they themselves become morally transformed by the very first thing that draws near them. If misfortune befalls them, they grovel before it and stoop down to its level; and misfortune, with them, would seem always to wear its poorest and commonest aspect. They see the finger of fate in every least thing that may happen—be it choice of profession, a friendship that greets them, a woman who passes, and smiles. To them chance and destiny always is one; but chance will be seldom propitious if accepted as destiny. Hostile forces at once take possession of all that is vacant within us, nor filled by the strength of our soul; and whatever is void in the heart or the mind becomes a fountain of fatal influence.
Pronounce the word “destiny,” and in the minds of all men an image arises of gloom and of terror—of death. In their thoughts they regard it, instinctively, as the lane that leads straight to the tomb. Most often, indeed, it is only the name that they give unto death, when its hand is not visible yet. It is death that looms in the future, the shadow of death upon life. “None can escape his destiny” we often exclaim when we hear of death lying in wait for the traveler at the bend of the road. But were the traveler to encounter happiness instead, we would never ascribe this to destiny; if we did, we should have in our mind a far different goddess. And yet, are not joys to be met with on the highways of life that are greater than any misfortune, more momentous even than death? May happiness not be encountered that the eye cannot see?
And is it not of the nature of happiness to be less manifest than misfortune, to become ever less apparent to the eye as it reaches loftier heights? But to this we refuse to pay heed. The whole village, the town, will flock to the spot where some wretched adventure takes place; but there are none will pause for an instant and let their eyes rest on a kiss, or a vision of beauty that gladdens the soul, a ray of love that illumines the heart. We are unjust; we never associate destiny with happiness; and if we do not regard it as being inseparable from death, it is only to connect it with disaster even greater than death itself.
It is wrong to think of destiny only in connection with death and disaster. When shall we cease to believe that death, and not life, is important; that misfortune is greater than happiness? Why, when we try to sum up a man’s destiny, keep our eyes fixed only on the tears that he shed, and never on the smiles of his joy? Where have we learned that death fixes the value of life, and not life that of death?
Does death occupy more space in life than birth? Yet do you not take the sage’s birth into account as you ponder over his destiny. Happiness or unhappiness arises from all that we do from the day of our birth to the day of our death; and it is not in death, but indeed in the days and the years that precede it, that we can discover a man’s true happiness or sorrow—in a word, his destiny. We seem to imagine that the sage, whose terrible death is written in history, spent all his life in sad anticipation of the end his wisdom prepared; whereas in reality, the thought of death troubles the wise far less than it troubles the wicked. But it is difficult for us not to believe that a wound, that bleeds a few hours, must crumble away into nothingness all the peace of a lifetime.
We are less just than destiny even, when it is destiny that we judge. Our eyes see only the sage’s misfortune, for misfortune is known to us all; but we see not his happiness, for to understand the happiness of the wise and the just whose destinies we endeavor to gauge, we must possess wisdom and justice that shall be fully equal to theirs. When a man of inferior soul endeavors to estimate a great sage’s happiness, this happiness flows through his fingers like water; yet is it heavy as gold, and as brilliant as gold, in the hand of a brother sage. For to each is the happiness given that he can best understand. The sage’s misfortune may often resemble the one that befalls other men; but his happiness has nothing in common with that which he who is not wise terms happiness. In happiness there are far more regions unknown than there are in misfortune. The voice of misfortune is ever the same; happiness becomes the more silent as it penetrates deeper.
There are some who are wholly unable to support the burden of joy. There is courage of happiness as well as courage of sorrow. It may even be true that permanent happiness calls for more strength in man than permanent sorrow; for the heart wherein wisdom is not delights more in the expectation of that which it has not yet, than in the full possession of all it has ever desired. He in whom happiness dwells is amazed at the heart that finds aliment only in fear or in hope, and that cannot be nourished on what it possesses, though it possess all it ever desired.
Evil at times would seem compelled to beg a ray of light from virtue, to shed luster on its triumph. Is it possible for a man to smile in his hatred and not borrow the smile of love? But the smile will be short-lived, for here, as everywhere, there is no inner injustice. Within the soul the high-water mark of happiness is always level with that of justice or charity. The man who goes forth to seek his happiness in evil does merely prove thereby that he is less happy than the other who watches, and disapproves. And yet his object is identical with that of the upright man. He too is in search of happiness, of some sort of peace and certainty. Of what avail to punish him for we do not blame the poor because their home is not a palace.
We are not wrong, perhaps, to be heedful of justice in the midst of a universe that heeds not at all; as the bee is not wrong to make honey in a world that itself can make none. But we are wrong to desire an external justice, since we know that it does not exist. Let that which is in us sufficed. All is forever being weighed and judged in our soul. It is we who shall judge ourselves; or rather, our happiness is our judge.
(Adapted from The Project Gutenberg EBook of Wisdom and Destiny, by Maurice Maeterlinck)

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