Section: Opinion

Free yourself of social judgements and live

I once discovered that an enjoyable glass of wine may be had on a rooftop overlooking the town of Battersea, England. Moments before, a few fellows and I had been induced to go atop the house by a ludicrous man in green, and that the flavor of a cheap and disappointing wine might thusly be improved; we did so, and the wine, previously bitter, came to taste like a certain Canan vintage. Our minds grew wistful upon things once hoped for but pragmatically forgotten.  One of my new companions, emboldened by the effects of alcohol and of freshly discovered youth, rose to his feet and declared: “Let us go and do some of these things we can’t do.”

It was then that I placed G.K. Chesterton’s Manalive down and named my column. I am constantly beset by what I know to be a common experience; the conviction that behind the dun lacquer of life, there is glory and goodness just as we imagine and feel in art. That something keeps us from the wild love of life, the impossible hope of fiction, the indelible truth of dreams. Some gyve holds us back, but we cannot see it. But how could we have seen ourselves?

We all possess an impossible hope that usually falls prey to more practical choices. To write the novel, to found the company, to see the world before technology makes Europe as close as our backyard and our backyard as unvisited as Europe. But to hope for grandness is to invite disappointment and vulnerability. One does not go atop roofs to enjoy cheap wine because it would be dangerous and embarrassing; one does not stop to look up on night walks, for fear that we might realize that there are too few stars, or too many. After all, we have done away with stars of wonder and stars of light in exchange for cellphones that tell us where the stars were, as we can no longer see them for all our own self-made brilliance.

I have had to set aside a good amount of capable parasites to achieve any semblance of living well: social mores, concern for others’ perceptions, malignant conveniences. Like capable saboteurs, these things have convinced us of their needfulness and obscured the goodness that could be ours if we only set them aside. I know a bloke who once road-tripped across the States in his tired old Camry, drawn by adventure and unknowns despite want for serious funds and a guaranteed bed at any point. He became a better man for his few moments of heady audacity, acted upon when he first pulled out of his driveway and did not turn back to more civilized, acceptable activities.

The secret of the men and women whom we envy for their emboldened happiness is, I think, that they have at last believed in what they knew all along, and desired what they hoped for all along. That man’s great right is the pursuit of happiness, and that to pursue only stability is to sell this birthright for pottage. There are men who view their youth now as most do in old age, and act upon those fierce yearnings when they are not without means of sating them. We might all be heroes, if we are so heroic.

Such men and women are of course sniggered at. But I will join you in laughter, for a laugh is your sole right; it is the right of those who know they are no longer dawdling about life but are pursuing their joy with all vigor.  The will-to-joy is not the privilege of Chesterton’s or anybody’s characters, and I surmise that if we can imagine these things, we can have them too.  Behind barriers of things we cannot do lies an endless goodness, and that endlessness justifies all means at getting at it.

Matthew Eley ’15, of Howard, Ohio, is an English major with an IPHS concentration. His email address is


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