“Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”
Is better to have a short life with heroism and passion or is it better to live a long and comfortable life? To other modern man the question seems a silly one. The vast majority of us want the latter: a long and prosperous life of self-care, without drama or relevance to others. We hope to live to 90 and die without leaving a mark.
This wasn’t always so. There are some who still choose a life of heroism. Often these lives are cut short yet these names live on in history as people who made a difference. Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Tecumseh come to my mind.
The Jungian archetype of the struggle between contentment and passion is The Achilles Archetype. For those who don’t remember“The Iliad”, Achilles is the son of a mortal man and a goddess. We see the dichotomy of the question in his make-up. He is told he has two paths from which to choose: he can stay home, grow old, and have a happy marriage with children, be prosperous, and then die in obscurity. The other choice: he can have a heroic meaningful life full of honor and glory but die young. He chooses the latter, and he dies in battle. By today’s standards it looks to be a useless and senseless death. Yet his name lives on in our collective consciousness as The Warrior. His story is known throughout time.
The opening quotation is from Joyce’s “The Dead”; it is a reference to a Michael Furey, who died at 17 for the love of a woman. He is in contrast to the woman’s long time nondescript spouse Gabriel Conroy. Their marriage is pleasant and stable but in her heart is the passion for the boy who loved her so.
I am one of many who choose the stay home/be quiet and try to live a long, prosperous, and uneventful life. Every once in a while, when I read the stories of such men as Achilles or Michael Furey, I too feel the pang of lack of passion. Can I have some passion in my life, although it means (but the very definition of the word) some suffering?
In this new chapter of US History the times seem to call for men and women of passion to rise up and not choose creature comforts. Even if it hurts, even if it shakes up our lives, the times call for us to get more in touch with Achilles, come out of our tent and fight even if it means some loss. Am I brave enough to do so? Are you?