– This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect identities –
In his senior year of high school, Jack was the Adonis of the water in Laguna Beach, California. He was the best water polo player, fastest swimmer in the region, and had the best looking body in the school.
Unfortunately, he broke his elbow playing volleyball on a cement court as he was going up to spike the ball. Jack never returned to his original greatness.
He and his homecoming queen and cheerleader girlfriend, Jill, broke up shortly thereafter. Rumor had it Jill lost interest in Jack because of his loss of elite status as a swimmer, and the loss of muscular bod.
A short time later Jill started dating the star high school football quarterback, Paul.
After high school graduation, Paul entered the ROTC program on a scholarship at the University of California at San Diego, and eventually was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army, and shipped off for a tour of duty in Vietnam. At the time, Jill and Paul were engaged to be married.
Paul returned from his tour of duty with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It was not well treated in those days, and Paul’s personality began to change. He started having sudden outbursts of anger for no apparent reason.
Jill thought it best to break off the engagement, and started dating a successful business executive, whom she eventually married.
Years later, Paul was found managing a convenience shop in one of the casinos and hotels in Reno, Nevada.
Thirty years had now passed and it was time for their high school reunion. Jill was asked to be chairman of the reunion committee, the thinking being that she had been the most popular person in the school, and would have drawn the most people to the reunion.
She turned down the request with this candid assessment: “I’m missing a couple of teeth. Right now, I can’t afford to replace them. I’ve just finished a painful divorce from my second husband. I’m not up to being seen by any of my classmates.”
Questions About Jill, Paul, and Jack
What are we to think of Jill? Did she get what was coming to her?
What are we to to think of Paul? Is Paul a tragic figure? From star quarterback, to an elite university, to becoming a commissioned military officer, to having PTSD, to losing his fiancée, to ending up in a job that seemed less than his potential suggested.
And Jack, what about Jack? His fast rising star fell faster than it rose? Jack’s arm never did fully heel. I lost track of Jack after high school, and my efforts to find him have not yet born fruit.
Life Is Tough
In my opinion, life is particularly painful for those who have great success at a young age, but then are hit with acute downsides afterwards.
But, isn’t it true that life visits all of us with painful episodes sooner or later?
The question is, what do we do about life that hands out pain in equal measure to all?
Three great philosophers opined on the subject:
1. Arthur Schopenaur thought the best way to get through the generally painful life we all experience is to do as little as possible. His solution was to not marry, don’t have children, buy a simple apartment, listen to good music, read philosophy, get a good dog, and wait life out.
2. Martin Heidegger thought it best to live in the forest away from the brutality associated with urban life.
3. Frederick Nietzsche’s advice was to embrace the struggle that confronts each of us. Make large goals to break through our struggles. There is joy, not in avoiding the struggle, but in embracing it.
Of course, I’ve been tempted to embrace all three solutions. With Schopenaur, I understand that getting through life as simply as possible is wise. If you don’t want problems in life, don’t draw attention to yourself.
With Heidegger, I have often felt that in a modern world with powerful urban populations, we lose the meaning of ourselves. Getting out and blending into nature allows us to be a part of the world, while not competing with it.
With Nietzsche, facing your weaknesses and overcoming them does bring a heightened satisfaction to life.
For what it’s worth, I’ve found myself following Nietzsche’s advice. Much of my life has been fraught with staring down my weaknesses and making goals to conquer my own obstacles. The joy I’ve felt in life has come from the struggle itself.