“He’s always thinking about how to change things. He’s never satisfied with the way they are.”
Samuel smiled at him. “They say man lived in trees one time. Somebody had to get dissatisfied with a high limb or your feet would not be touching flat ground now.”
– John Steinbeck’s East of Eden
I’m reading “East of Eden” because I saw it on someone’s Facebook list of 10 books that changed their life. I don’t remember who. Thank you whomever you are.
When I first read this passage, I thought Yeah! This is how we make the world a better place! By never being satisfied. And we can and we do. Like a certain preschool teacher mentioned on our march for Martin Luther King Jr last week, he made the world a better place for us. She said to the children, Someday your face will be up on a sign. Because you’re going to make the world better, too.
When I saw a little girl kiss the head of her walking partner (a much smaller girl in the younger class) like a doting mother, I knew this teacher was right. These kids have hearts big enough to cradle the universe. The sky’s the limit for them. For all of us.
But the more I considered this sentiment, the more it troubled me. If we are never satisfied, how can we enjoy our lives? There is no destination to reach but death. All we have is now, the journey. We are alive. Can we feel gratitude for what we have while still wanting more?
I think the answer lies in seeking balance, recognizing how far we’ve come while acknowledging how far we still have to go.
For example, in the context of Martin Luther King Jr’s cause, schools are no longer segregated legally but they are anyways because of economic and racial privileges.
Personally, as a writer, I am more likely to start a new project rather than work on the third drafts and query letters of the novels I’ve already written. If I am “never” satisfied with my work then how can I share it? I believe in my stories, but do I believe in my ability to tell them?
As a wife and mother, my patience has grown though I still speak sharply and my presence has improved though I still get lost in my to do list and my iPhone and my thoughts. I am trying to be better while also celebrating my progress.
I believe I will always be a work in progress, which is both daunting and exciting. For better and for worse I expect a lot from myself and from others and from this human experience. But it’s tiring, this dissatisfaction. I seek the balance of knowing that despite my yearnings to evolve, I am good enough just as I am. Not at some point in the future. But today.
I write enough, I work enough, I blog enough, I exercise enough, I smile enough, I laugh enough, I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.