The Temptation to Quit

“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.” – Edward Gibbon (from my iGoogle Quotes of the Day gadget)

It is often said that life is a journey.  This analogy can be extended in a variety of ways depending on your personal philosophy or spiritual world view.  For some the journey is about holding firm to a path of moral rectitude.  For others it is a journey of self discovery where twists and turns are welcome.  There are those for whom there is no path at all, only the placing of one foot before the other.  While the application of the analogy may differ widely, the vast majority of people agree that the purpose of the journey is not to reach a destination, but to move from one place to another, to travel.

In my younger days, I believed that I had a specific destiny, that I had been created for one purpose.  Finding that purpose was a requirement, then, of achieving my potential.  Progress could be measured by my level of certainty that the path I trod was leading in the right direction.  When I reached a crossroads it was up to me to pick the one that would take me closer to my destination and if I chose poorly I would end up having to make up for lost time eventually.  During this period of my life temptation could be defined as those things which distracted me from my goal or that moved me off the path intended for me.  Temptations were forbidden or unexplored avenues that dazzled the eye but led to destruction.

Over the past few years I have come to believe that destiny, if I have one, is something that will find me.  I have a wife and a daughter who need and deserve far more attention than my search for a more ethereal sense of purpose.  I make choices to pursue things that I think will challenge me, like graduate school for instance, but they do not define who I am.  I’ve also found that my choice of traveling companions means much more to me than where I end up going.  Walking a lonely path covered in the rose-colored petals of Destiny was appealing once but I discovered that loneliness is a poor companion and flowers make terrible conversation.  So when I reach a crossroad now I try to look ahead to ensure that those with whom I travel will be able to follow.

These days, the nature of temptation has changed as well.  The danger is not is following a wrong trail but in ceasing to travel, to give up on maturing.  Some days I think the greatest relief I can imagine would be to stop trying.  To just yell at people who irritated me, or to simply impose my will where I see fit.  Mumbling and grumbling to myself about the problems in the world around me instead of speaking up and trying to be part of an active solution.  Perhaps even more insidious is the temptation to zone out, to live for nothing other than the gratification of the immediate moment.

The difference between facing temptation earlier in my life and dealing with it now is a matter of focus.  In the past I would rely on the strength of my conviction that where I was going was right and true and ultimately better for me than the delectable diversions at the end of the various rabbit trails of temptation.  Some times that would work great but other times the goal just seemed too far off, too ethereal and the hunger for something now too great.

Today my focus is much narrower – the feet in front of me and the people near to me.  To shrug off temptation means taking a single step, making a single motion towards a loved one or replacing a “treadmill” activity with a “road race” activity.  Interestingly, as I focus on continuing to move forward I am finding that as a matter of course I am also pursuing a narrower path than before as well.

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