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The Great Battle

The Great Battle

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” This quote, often attributed to Philo of Alexandria, serves as the epigraph fronting my novel Never Break the Chain.

It was a good fit for that story, in which every major character is up against a seismic challenge of one kind or another, but also one that continues to reverberate in real life. My brother Gerry, who teaches at the University of Virginia, recently quoted it to his students the first time they met after the November 13 shootings there, as a reminder that every single person they might encounter on campus was grappling with some measure of grief and trauma.

It’s a bit of wisdom that’s felt especially relevant during the long, long—no, seriously, there can’t have been only 365 days—year that was 2022. Turning a big number this year helped put me in a reflective mood, particularly in the wake of all that the pandemic has wrought—loss of life, isolation, anxiety, a hardening of attitudes, and what feels like a significant fraying of the social fabric. That sense of frayed connections lingers even now.

In Believe in Me and Never Break the Chain I wrote about Tim Green’s journey through grieving the death of his father and the absence of his mother, and how he ultimately learns to live with grief (which can’t be overcome, only acknowledged, absorbed and adapted to). One of the main lessons Tim takes from his experience is one I’ve had to learn over and over: to forgive people—especially the ones we love—for being human.

It’s not exactly a news flash—not with examples so abundant all around us on a daily basis—but it turns out that humans are flawed. All of us. No exceptions. And while some revel in and/or are consumed by their flaws, many engage in decades-long battle to overcome them, trying to evolve into that better person their heart still informs them they are capable of becoming.

In the end, trying to realize that potential is like trying to solve the famous math problem where you keep cutting the distance between two objects in half; the distance will continue to shrink each time, but the objects will never meet. What matters, then, is the trying, the perpetual push to do a little better, and be a little better, each day than the day before.

Twenty twenty-two has been a year that reacquainted me again and again with my own flaws (thanks for that, most sincerely, now bugger off). At the same time, I’ve been reminded over and over that this is normal, that in fact a number of the situations that have caused me angst are the result of people behaving like, well, humans—imperfect creatures, often doing our best, just as often missing the mark, but trying. Always trying.

As with grief, then, the great battle is not about conquering our humanity, but accepting it—accepting that we will fall short of our own expectations (not to mention those of others) again and again, while recognizing that there is and always will be purpose and value in trying. As long as we’re still in the fight, inching forward rather than backward, that’s what matters. That, and love, and maybe also chocolate chip cookies, which, unlike humans, are perfect.

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