Shunning the cure they most desire

April 4, 2007

Last weekend we came across a woodland waterfall, fuller than normal due to the spring thaw, the white water bouncing and swirling down the rocks on its way to the bottom of the cliff. The water seemed to me to have no choice in the matter of where it was going, despite what Chris put in one of his blogs last June.

The water knows ahead of time that a rock is coming and moves to one side to avoid it,

he claimed.

No it doesn’t. It meets the rock willy-nilly, and the rock pushes it aside.

As I stared at the waterfall, I thought of people who behave like that water, always taking the path of least resistance; weakened by their fear of conflict, they are flung from side to side and if they’re unlucky may fall into whirlpools from which there’s no escape.

Other, stronger people always see the possibility of choice ahead of them and act according to their integrity. Just before Dido’s famous Lament at the climax of Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas, the momentum of the plot is paused to allow for a commentary by the chorus that solemnly sings:

Great minds against themselves conspire,
And shun the cure they most desire.

When I was younger, these words didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but they do now. These “great minds” are the people who, when it comes to the crux, are not afraid to put up a fight against pressure from all around them, who go against the flow of logic, instinct and desire, and who are willing to face whatever awful consequences, rather than take the easy way.

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