I’m currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise,” in which the following poem by Robert Browning is quoted:
“Each life unfulfilled, you see,
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy;
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
Starved, feasted, despaired—been happy.”
It struck a chord with me. I think we (or at least myself) often believe that having a fulfilled life means having everything just the way we want it with an overabundance of “good” things. Browning, however, leaves room for hunger, sadness, loss. A truly satisfying life is one in which we have experienced a variety of circumstances and emotions.
Up until a few months ago, I might have balked at this sentiment. Surely it would be better to stay in a safe zone, a boxed in area of the known, the familiar, the already experienced. Outside of the box is the enormous potential for heartbreak and failure, and for what? The chance at something better than what is already in the box? But earlier this year I dangled a toe outside of the box, scared to death but no longer content with my self-imposed boundaries. I inched slowly out at first, got hurt, but forced myself to inch out further still. I got quite a ways before being wounded again. After a brief respite, though, I was back in the unknown territory, blindly setting one foot in front of the other.
I learned (and, in all honesty, am still learning) something valuable. The pain, though at times intense, gave me a power that I hadn’t experienced before. I felt, as Browning alluded to, alive, like I had survived a battle to fight again. The temptation to crawl back into my box was strong, but the empowerment of trying, of pushing forward despite it all spurred me deeper into the unknown.
I still don’t know if I will achieve the goal for which I set out in the unfamiliar, but regardless, I know that in the process I will achieve the ultimate goal, a more “fulfilled life.”