The quote is from the movie Braveheart and whether or not it was actually said by William Wallace while trying to inspire the Scots to battle the English is not really material to this blog. When I came across it I had a multitude of questions that wandered all over the lot and I still haven’t figures out why all the questions and why such a disparity among them. Some of the questions were 1) could a person who had not ‘lived’ even think to ask such a question; 2) can a person who has never ‘lived’ even conceive of something more than what they have experienced; 3) isn’t the quote more for our time, where the concept of an expanded self-awareness is in popular magazines and do-it-yourself books; is it a question of self-actualization or maybe only self-awareness (i.e. do I really have to do something more than just think it?); 4) what does the author mean by lives?; 5) is this just a paraphrase of the Christian gospel? Actually, there were and are more but that gives an idea of the range of thoughts/questions that went through my mind.
On its face the quote is very motivational, at least to me. How often have I dreaded the thought that someone close (and I will use my father as an example) will shortly before death have an epiphany that the life has been wasted or is far from complete? Many, many are the times that I wished for his death without him having this epiphany, without dying suffering from the thought his life was wasted or incomplete. (And, as far as I know, he never did have this epiphany.)
Or applying the same fear to my life is probably why the Robert Service Poem strikes such a cord in me.
There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.
At least in my life I can say that in many, many ways I have lived. I have loved and been loved, I have been part of history (civil rights movement, etc.), wonderful children, I have experienced various mind states but most assuredly I have a very deep and strong believe in the reality of my relationship to God. Yet with all this there is still vibration of the chord that Mr. Service struck, the existential queasiness that wonders how I would answer William Wallace if he asked me if I had really lived.
So I stand between Mr. Service looking into my heart and saying ‘see you are really one of those people’ and Mr. Wallace looking me in the eye and asking ‘have you really, really lived’.
There will probably be more to this theme so feel free to comment and that will give me more to ramble about!