“A second chance—that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” ― Henry James, The Middle Years
Our life’s work is an accumulation of the things we did today. This we know, as we know we don’t do our best work sometimes and squander some days altogether. We are imperfect beings, wishing it weren’t so but not always trying especially hard to remedy the fact. Still, we persist.
We wonder at those who create brilliant work until the very end. Poets and songwriters, artists and the occasional world leader, pushing to complete their vision while there’s still time. Will that be us? Will you and I still be creative beings to the end, or will we shift to less majestic dreams, like art class in the senior center? Shouldn’t our latter years, should we arrive there, be more than simply being fully present when the grandchildren arrive? Shouldn’t we offer a spark of wonder and mystery, even to the end?
But I get ahead of myself. We’re in the productive years now. These are the days of wine and roses, after all. We know deep down which season we’re in, and we have much work to do still.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for awhile, then closes
Within a dream.
— Ernest Dowson
The cadence of our days is set by our systems and routines. Each day we get to create our best work, to do what we can with what we have in us that day. We try to measure up to our previous best, and dare to exceed it. This is a quest for mastery, not of the work, but of ourselves. The work is nothing but breadcrumbs that others might follow.