“The line of life is a ragged diagonal between duty and desire.” –
William R. Alger
Well. I am not sure I have ever seen a more succinct explanation for Life as a struggle as well as Life is never a straight line.
Life is an ongoing struggle.
And Life is rarely a straight and narrow path.
Why are these ‘truths’? Because inevitably all lives are made up of choices.
A shitload of ongoing choices — small and large and every size in between. And these choices we make all tell us the path(s) our lives will take.
Now. I do not believe our Life, or destiny, is pre-ordained in a black & white definition. What I mean is that even if I did believe in a higher order <God has a plan for each and every one of us> destiny, I would tend to believe it was a map of possibilities. Therefore, we make choices aiming toward something in general <whatever your personal something is> … and amble down a path, or number of paths, that is not preordained but ones we choose.
I like … no … love the thought that we get tugged by some sense of duty <right thing to do> versus desire <some type of self-gratification … spanning from full indulgence to full altruism> as we make all these choices.
What does is mean? A diagonal line.
A ragged diagonal line.
Should we choose one way … that is the way we will go.
Should we choose another way … we go that way instead.
This means Life consists of paths that branch out turning right and left, this way and that way, running straight and crooked, turning sometimes randomly & severely in a variety of angles.
Yeah. Surely some paths are more likely than others, but we can choose any path to take. And each choice begets more branches ahead — some seen and some yet to be seen. At the core of this thinking is that Life is less about following some planned path, but instead suggests that each choice is contextual – to the environment, to one’s experience & to one’s knowledge.
I imagine if one lives a stagnant unmoving life the choices may be simpler and the events affecting the branches are fewer. Yet <just in case ‘stagnancy’ appeals to you as an ‘easier life choice’> stagnancy or ‘hiding from Life’ doesn’t guarantee shit.
Because as your path crosses with others – others who are also making choices – as you cross the choices of strangers, family, friends, enemies, whomever, their choices affect our path. And their choices sometimes force choice where choice never resided before … or if we even wanted to make a choice at all.
The more people we meet, the more paths & branches crisscross, and cross again. It becomes a tangled confusion of so many choices and paths and interlinked branches it becomes easy to think of it all as chaos. Especially if you think of people and events as threads and not dots in a moment in time:
“There is a trail of existence that follows everyone, threads of life that people spin out and leave behind wherever they go.
Threads cross all the time.
Threads cross and cross again – time and place if in no other way – even when the people appear unaware of each other. No one pays attention to others around them unless the overlap happens again.
Sometimes, people miss each other only by a few seconds, yet they are connected.
Sometimes place is the reason for the overlap but time is not.
Sometimes the overlap is purposeful other times happenstance.
The threads are there, no matter.
Ah. When they glow, they are one destiny.”
Inspector O <james Church book character>
It is not chaos, but, your life is affected by these ‘trails of existence’ — impacted by what was, is and what will be. As I type that it can become easy to think you have no control <or simply throw your hands up in the air in frustration>.
Well. While we certainly can be impacted by others or ‘things out of our control’ what remains in our control, always, is the choice. Our choice. The choice to do what we may with the circumstances at hand.
The choice remains with us.
The choice between duty and desire.
In each tangled chaotic web of events, threads and paths, it is all bounded by the practical. The practical aspect of what you can actually do, and cannot do, within the choices you make. I am not speaking of dreaming the impossible <because dreaming is good>, but the actual reality of what can be done.
note: the ability to pragmatically assess what IS possible within a given context and what is not takes experience and an eye biased toward some pragmatism.
Back to duty & desire.
This all sounds chaotic and impossible to navigate. But think about this. Look to the past and it appears to be a neat set of choices made and not made. This is the power, and danger, of reflection.
It all appears like a schematic of choices made of duty … and those of desire. And encounters of events and people who forced us to make choices. We make it all look a little tidier than it was.
Oh shit. Wait a second.
I imagine if anyone were to look to the future it would simply appear to be sheer chaos. A snarled thread of paths and choices.
This is where the original quote comes back to play — our destiny resides in our choices between duty and desire. Period. Sometimes the choice is black & white and often it resides in the gray. Unfortunately, regardless of its hue or shade or color, the choice will place us on a path toward our destiny.
In other words … a ragged diagonal path through Life.
This all may make us uncomfortable — all this choosing amongst the snarled threads of Life wondering if each choice is somehow easing its way down the ragged diagonal path toward a destiny we either actually seek or one we will be comfortable with in the end or one we cannot even envision yet.
Uncomfortable because we people like have to have an explanation that satisfies us.
I Know I am biased and have my own opinions on Life. Heck.
Many months ago in 2010 I wrote about the fact I love being “everywhere at once.” It was in that piece where I closed my thoughts with: ‘Where do I want to be 10 years from now? Everywhere. All at once.’
Agree or disagree … but … it is a ragged diagonal path we live.
All of us.
I imagine if you define it simply as a shitload of choices made between duty and desire, the ragged aspect will not bother you as much because you are on a path toward a destiny that can be explained in the end — “I balanced duty & desire in my Life.”
Well. If that is measurement of how one made choices, or took control, of their destiny, I believe it would be a life lived well.