Adam said, ‘I’ve wondered why a man of your knowledge would work a desert hill place.’
‘It’s because I haven’t courage,’ said Samuel. ‘I could never quite take the responsibility. When the Lord God did not call my name, I might have called His name—but I did not. There you have the difference between greatness and mediocrity. It’s not an uncommon disease. But it’s nice for a mediocre man to know that greatness must be the loneliest state in the world.’
‘I’d think there are degrees of greatness,’ Adam said.
‘I don’t think so,’ said Samuel. ‘That would be like saying there is a little bigness. No. I believe when you come to that responsibility the hugeness and you are alone to make your choice. On one side you have warmth and companionship and sweet understanding, and on the other—cold, lonely greatness. There you make your choice. I’m glad I chose mediocrity, but how am I to say what reward might have come with the other? None of my children will be great either, except perhaps Tom. He’s suffering over the choosing right now. It’s a painful thing to watch. And somewhere in me I want him to say yes. Isn’t that strange? A father to want his son condemned to greatness! What selfishness that must be.'”
“The Danger of a Single Story” is a TED talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I watched it for the first time last summer as homework at a writing program in Massachusetts. It’s reaaaallllly good. Highly recommend it, because that’s what I’m going to talk about now.
One operates in the now. Later, the retrospectoscope, that handy tool of the wags and pundits, the conveners of the farce we call M&M—morbidity and mortality conference—will pronounce your decision right or wrong. Life, too, is like that. You live it forward, but understand it backward. It is only when you stop and look to the rear that you see the corpse caught under your wheel.”
—Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone