He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,
This daring young man on the flying trapeze.
HAVING LEARNED HOW TO DO SOMETHING EASILY IS ONE OF LIFE’S MOST WONDERFUL SATISFACTIONS. Especially when the thing was very difficult or awkward to begin with, there is a wholesome gratification that now comes from being able to do it easily. And not only do we enjoy what we ourselves can do easily, but we enjoy the ease with which others can do difficult things. Just last evening, I watched again the amazing performance of Michael Flatley and his troupe in Lord of the Dance. Irish step dancing is no easy thing, but Flatley and his friends do it with such joyous, exuberant ease that the result is enthralling, especially to those who know how hard it is.
In each of our lives, there are a number of helpful things we need to be able to do, and we should be willing to pay the price (in terms of discipline, sacrifice, and hard work) to do these things graciously and easily. Most good things are hard before they’re easy; that’s just the way the world works. So we have to persevere through our various apprenticeships and not give up until we’ve gained the mastery.
When the word “ease” is mentioned, however, many people think not of learning to do difficult things easily but of avoiding difficulty altogether. Some seem to envision a “life of ease” as a life where nothing difficult or unpleasant ever has to be done. And unfortunately, our culture seems to be headed in the direction of worshiping that kind of ease. But as W. Somerset Maugham said, “Any nation that thinks more of its ease and comfort than its freedom will soon lose its freedom; and the ironical thing about it is that it will lose its ease and comfort too.” That’s just as true for individuals as it is for nations.
But properly defined, ease is something we should pursue. We’ll probably do more of the things we ought to do when they’ve become easy for us. But when we see people who can do those things easily right now, it would be foolish to want their skill without accepting the work that went into getting that skill. The “life of ease” is not one of lazy leisure but one of easy action — a life where good deeds aren’t as difficult as they used to be. Getting to that point is anything but easy.
“A life of ease is a difficult pursuit” (William Cowper).