“By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT STEPS WE EVER TAKE TOWARD WISDOM AND MATURITY IS TAKEN WHEN WE ACCEPT THE SPECIFICS OF OUR OWN INDIVIDUALITY. Much of the first half of life is spent in the luxury of limitless possibilities. There is no place we might not go before we die, no accomplishment we might not achieve, and no virtuous trait we might not develop. As we turn toward life’s latter stages, however, it becomes obvious that we’ll not live long enough to actually do any more than a fraction of the things we’ve imagined. Some choices will have to be made. And for each thing we choose to grasp, there’ll be many others we have to let go of. We can do nearly anything we want, but not everything we want.
Human beings are not infinite. We are “particular” people, each defined by our own specifics. We are born into this particular family, and not the millions of others we might have been born into. We have this set of personal characteristics, and not the millions of others we might have acquired. Before life is done, we will have had this set of experiences, and not the millions of others we might have had. The older we get, the more comfortable we need to become with our own personal particulars. We should never quit dreaming and working, of course, and while life lasts we should always be pressing toward new possibilities. But when all has been said and done, even the most varied life will still consist of a limited set of particulars. Some people pack more into their lifetimes than others, but there are limits beyond which no one can go. It’s impossible to be a brown-eyed person born in Mississippi and also be a blue-eyed person born in Minnesota. And even in matters of choice, it’s impossible to have our cake and eat it too.
Wisdom suggests that we should not only accept our particulars, but we should be grateful for them. Even if we’ve made poor choices in the past and wasted much of our potential, we can be thankful for the unique opportunities that now lie before us. There is good work yet to be done — work that can be done best by a person who has just our set of particulars. Warts, scars, and all.
“Let us be contented with what has happened to us and thankful for all we have been spared. Let us accept the natural order in which we move. Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies, such as they must be in this world of space and time” (Winston Churchill).