“Before I die I want to feel a great sorrow,” wrote the late Edmund N. Carpenter in an essay he composed back in 1938 as a seventeen-year-old student. “It is my belief as in the case of love,” he explained, “no man has lived until he has felt sorrow. It molds us and teaches us that there is a far deeper significance to life than might be supposed if one passed through this world forever happy and carefree.”
Admittedly, until I had read Mr. Carpenter’s essay in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article it would never have occurred to me to list the feeling of great sorrow among my life’s desires. Would you? In fact, I dare say our tendencies are to avoid such experiences altogether, are they not? Yet there is great wisdom in Mr. Carpenter’s thoughts, something we all intuitively know at a deeper level, and that is such experiences as love, joy, success and happiness are intimately linked with heartbreak, pain, failure and sorrow; for to pursue the former is to make ourselves vulnerable to the latter. To love, for example, is to place ourselves at risk, either of rejection or of sorrow.
Never falling in love, tasting success, or experiencing joy in some way are rarely the result of our being somehow deprived by life; rather it is more often the consequence of our playing it too safe. That’s why as a young man Edmund Carpenter peering into his own future chose not to play it safe, for by doing so he realized he would be depriving himself from the opportunity of experiencing all the fullness of life.
“. . . I do not desire my life to be a bed of roses,” he continued in his essay. “I want it to be something much more than that. I want it to be a truly great adventure, never dull, always exciting and engrossing, not sickly sweet, yet not unhappy.”
What about the rest of us, I wonder, do we sometimes play it too safe?