Evanston RoundTable, Nov. 1, 2018
We know this much about life, that it will contain its share of hardship and there is no way to avoid the end. So we must learn to endure, otherwise suffering is certain.
Churchill famously said. “Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in—except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
And as he proved, endurance, resilience and perseverance are the pathways to salvation, even triumph.
Examples from history attest to this. Take Beethoven. In early middle age he discovered he was losing his hearing, the greatest tragedy a composer can experience. Deafness for Beethoven meant never hearing music again—his or anyone else’s. It also meant he could no longer play the piano in public. Since performing was a source of great joy and pride as well as financial security, this was an additional calamity.
His despair was so complete he thought of killing himself. But after writing a suicide note—the Heiligenstadt Testament, in which he said, “…with joy I hasten towards death…Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead”—he put it in a drawer and went on to compose the greatest music of his career, the majestic and powerful symphonies and concertos of his middle period and the transcendent late piano sonatas and string quartets.
The painter Claude Monet experienced a similar tragedy, growing blind near the end of his long career. He complained to his close friend Georges Clemenceau he could no longer distinguish colors, until Clemenceau convinced him to have an operation that restored some sight. Monet wrote to a friend that, “Age and chagrin have worn me out. My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.”
Despite his feelings of despair, he continued painting until his final days, donating his monumental and highly abstract “Water Lilies” to the City of Paris that today hang in the Orangerie.
There’s another example—less inspiring but closer to home, only 50 miles northwest of Evanston, in Woodstock, Ill. That is the site of the Chester Gould Museum. Gould was the famous cartoonist who developed the Dick Tracy comic strip, one of the most successful in comic strip history. But the museum tells a different story, one of fanatic dedication. A poster there labeled “Perseverance” describes Gould’s early efforts to syndicate a cartoon strip. All through the 1920s he submitted drawing after drawing and idea after idea to the Chicago Tribune. They were all rejected—60 of them. The 61st was Dick Tracy.
Perseverance is almost trite, it’s so frequently cited. “Winners never quit, quitters never win,” etc. But in the face of despair, disaster and disappointment, it can be hard to summon the energy and persistence.
These three did, and in the process left the world far better off.