Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Some of my favourite excerpts…
Stegner shows us, again and again, that it is love and friendship, the sanctity and celebration of our relationships, that not only support a good life, but create one. Through friendship, we spark and inspire one another’s ambitions:
Though I have been busy, perhaps overbusy, all my life, it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head, and that the rewards—the comfortable income, the public notice, the literary prizes, and the honorary degrees—have been tinsel, not what a grown man should be content with. What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected. Some of us suspected that money wasn’t even very good for people—hence Charity’s leaning toward austerity and the simple life. But we all hoped, in whatever way our capacities permitted, to define and illustrate the worthy life. With me it was always to be done in words; Sid too, though with less confidence. With Sally it was sympathy, human understanding, a tenderness toward human cussedness or frailty. And with Charity it was organization, order, action, assistance to the uncertain, and direction to the wavering. Leave a mark on the world. Instead, the world has left marks on us.
Henry Adams. “Chaos,” he told me, “is the law of nature; order is the dream of man.”
Talent lies around in us like kindling waiting for a match, but some people, just as gifted as others, are less lucky. Fate never drops a match on them. The times are wrong, or their health is poor, or their energy low, or their obligations too many. Something.
Unconsidered, merely indulged, ambition becomes a vice; it can turn a man into a machine that knows nothing but how to run. Considered, it can be something else—pathway to the stars, maybe.