Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Of Mice and Men, and Sandwiches

Sometimes I have to admit that I feel like quite the little man in this great big wide world of ours. For all my intentions and hopes to rise above the mire that is my existence, I am constantly reminded that the limitations of man are placed long before we ever begin the race. Of these obstacles I wish to speak on today.

Of Mice and Men is a book written by John Steinbeck that has a very strong central theme of unrealized dreams, the cold and harsh reality that stifled them and pushed them into the ditch where they are abandoned and left to rot. Certainly many who read this book come away with a sense of sorrow and depression, even if they somehow are able to draw some sort of hope in their interpretation of the material.

But this post is not about the sobriety ultimately placed upon one's soul when confronted with the reflection of their existence. Indeed, my intention is not to even make a sorrowful or sullen bit of writing that echos the sorrows found in this book. Rather, my mind is caught up to a time when what I dreamed was still a dream, and that dream had not yet become a reality.

Quite frankly, I must admit, that I am lover of dreams, and a man without a dream is like a man without his sandwich - he may have things to consume, but it won't be as satisfying. Dreams are the sandwiches of the soul, and without them we are left wanting. Despite the seemingly endless parade of disenchanted fellows who bemoan their woeful state, life isn't as bad as it may seem. What it really is depends much more upon the perspective we take than the actual circumstance.

Allow me to explain a little further what I mean. Clearly it is one thing to say that we reap what we sow, it is entirely another to say we must like what we ignorantly sought. Who in this world can honestly say that, upon starting a new endeavor, actually understood what they wanted from its conclusion? I for one did not know what it truly meant to be graduated and working full-time, nor did I fully grasp what it would be like to become a responsible adult. Yet, after all is said and done, I am these things and it is not what I expected at all. I set out early in my life to be a responsible adult, to make a fair wage and to have money to live a respectable life. My dreams were laid before me, wrought with the fervor and care of one who thought he understood what he was preparing for. I saw, I came, and I conquered.

And what did my victory do for me? Of what reward have I to speak now that I have accomplished my aims? Truthfully I cannot state that I have much of anything to show. Perhaps I can point now to the free-time I have to explore my interests, or to impart good unto my fellow man. Perhaps I can say that I now can contribute more fully to a society that has helped bring me to this point, and hopefully in so doing help another to achieve the liberty I have gained. Or maybe I can say that I have a piece of paper that designates I have learned enough to do tasks above menial labor jobs.

But are these the things I thought I would achieve? Yes, and with confidence I state that it is everything I wanted. So why the almost sullen opening to this post? Why bother speaking of obstacles when I have already achieved my dreams (well, at least this dream in particular)?

The reason is simple really, and it is akin to the winner's curse. It would appear that man, upon achieving their designs, ultimately struggle with the fruit of their labors. How many times have you finally gotten that thing you wanted and then shortly thereafter tossed it aside out of boredom? It is like so many little children on the day after Christmas who put away the shiny new toy away for the last time because they are already bored. The anticipation was high all year for that new toy, and once gained the magic was gone.

We are limited by our own perception of achievement. The placement of goals and milestones in our lives has ultimately led us to constantly desire, nay, to yearn for that something greater, that un-achievable end. Hardly are we content to spend our lives learning to enjoy it, rather choosing to spend it learning to improve it. Our limitations are laid before us before we ever begin simply because we have not yet learned how to handle victory.

I feel small in this world because I look around and see how little I have achieved compared to my neighbor. At 26 years of age should I not by now have at least produced some sort of notable marker of success? Sure, I have a master's degree, but what is that more than just a piece of paper signifying my willingness to spend money to learn? It is times like these that I realize I was doomed from the beginning to fail at my dreams because I did not understand that the dream itself was not the end. The end must always be more than the means, no matter how I arrive.

With the example of my degree, what is the end I sought to achieve? Financial independence? Security from economic woes? Reputability in my opinions? All of these are true, and yet now that I have them I realized that none of them are as satisfying as I had hoped they would be. I received the wimpy salad over the hearty sandwich. I was left disillusioned for so long that these things did not bring me the satisfaction I thought they would. A piece of paper never seemed so flimsy in my life.

But upon further reflection I realized that I was not disappointed that my spoils were lacking, but rather I was not happy that they didn't live up to the expectations. I wanted more, I wanted that great achievement I saw others had done. I felt like a failure only because I could not be content with what I had achieved, and yet what I had achieved was still great.

Of Mice and Men is filled with characters who mourn the loss of their unrealized dreams and potential, a tragedy we are all too familiar with. But is it a tragedy because the dream was unrealized, or is it a tragedy because they didn't realize that what they had was worthy of their dreams?