Friday, November 6, 2015

Of Mulligans and the Love of Wisdom

For most of us, as we continue to think about who we are and the road that we have traveled, we find that there are both regrets and celebrations; there is obedience and inconsistency along the road. We find that we only partially live the philosophies by which we say we have chosen to live. Our “love of wisdom” – the literal meaning of philosophy – struggles with our philo-solatium – “love of comfort.” We sometimes wish we could go back to the beginning and live it better a second time around. Perhaps this is the reason why dreams of reincarnation are so prevalent. To borrow a term from golf: we would all like a “mulligan.”

Even if we could go back with greater wisdom, and a greater love for wisdom, we would still find ourselves making choices at each turn of our lives and with each revolution of the earth. How would we fair on the myriad of choices a second time around? I suggest that this would not so much be an instance of living our lives over again, but rather living someone else’s life. Each choice along the way would be a type of birth from which there would be no return.[1] Each choice would shape us and contribute to the person we would become. The product of the series of choices would look very unlike the person we are today. Going back is not an option.

Wendell Berry expresses a similar idea in one of his books entitled Hanna Coulter. A character in the story expresses it this way.

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
“Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.”
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”[2]
I will start again today. This “love of wisdom,” this “philosophy of life,” can guide me even when I am “not all the way capable of so much” for “those are the right instructions.” Even if you are not so convinced that those are the right instructions, you might try the path and see where it will lead. We can walk it together.

[1] See Berry, Wendell. Jayber Crow. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2000; and Stages of Life -

[2] Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter.

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