One of my favorite literary characters is Samuel Hamilton, from the book East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Now, if you haven't read the book, I forgive you-- but only if you run out immediately and read it. Go ahead, I'll wait. [And, No, watching the movie does not count. It's terrible.] ;)
As I was saying, Samuel Hamilton is the kind of person with which you just want to sit down and share a meal. He's the kind of person who would make me a better person, just by spending time with him. In the book, Samuel talks a bit about greatness-- how he could have become a great man, but was afraid; how he watches his own son struggle with greatness, and how it pains him.
The thing about greatness-- about those people who seem set apart, who were meant to change the world-- is that it comes at a cost. There is a comfort, a sense of belonging when we are average, when we don't set our sights too high. The heroes of this world are lonely; they struggle and strain and sacrifice. And although we all love a great hero movie-- and although we'd all like to think, at one time or another, that we could be that hero-- very few of us are actually willing to step out from the crowd.
All these thoughts came to me a little while ago in a rather round about way. Although it doesn't happen as often as I like, I try to pray for the little peanut growing inside of me. I confess that most of my prayers are motivated by the fear of loss-- illness, deformity, still birth, and all the horrible, worrisome thoughts that will inevitably plague my mind from now into the rest of motherhood.
Usually, once I've finished praying for the basics-- healthy kid, two arms & legs, and all that-- my mind wanders into the more abstract. What will he be like? Can I pray for his personality, his soul?
I found myself wanting to pray for his happiness-- that he would live a life of contentment and security. Who wouldn't want that for their child? But what about greatness? What about the kind of man who would actually change the world around him, who would be willing to sacrifice for others? I confess that, as much as I would want someone like that in this world, it is a difficult thing to pray that for your own child.
It made me wonder about the things that I really value. To a certain extent, I want to be that kind of person-- the kind who choses that which is difficult, and who is willing to sacrifice because there is the higher value. I want the students that we work with to posess those characteristics as well, and I want to be a part of something that is worth the sacrifice (as I believe I am).
But for some reason, this new entity has sprung up inside me that is afraid to pray that for my own child, and I wonder why. What do I really value? How much am I willing to give?
In East of Eden, Samuel Hamilton unwittingly reveals to his friends the meaning behind life. It comes in a Hebrew word, Timshell, which means "Thou Mayest". As he and the characters in the book wrestle with this idea of greatness, they discover in an old Bible story this word Timshell-- the ability to choose between greatness & mediocrity, the earth & the stars. Most of us live in limbo between the two, paralized with the fear of the decision, as Samuel was. We are never really fully alive while we hover in indecision, but I can feel the fear and hesitation inside of me each time the choice is given.
I still haven't quite had the courage to pray that my little 10 oz. baby would one day choose the greater. It's a big hurdle to cross, mentally. But I suppose that each time the decision is laid before me, it gets me a step closer. Greatness may not be in the cards, but there's always potential. As Steinbeck says, "To the stars, on the wings of a pig."