“We live the whole of our lives provisionally. We think that for the time being things are not bad, that for the time being we must make the best of them and adapt or humiliate ourselves, but that it’s all only provisional and that one day real life will begin. We prepare for death complaining that we have never lived. Sometimes I’m haunted by the thought that we have only one life and that we live it provisionally, waiting in vain for the day when real life will begin.” – Ignazio Silone, Bread and Wine, p. 33
I distinctly remember the first time I dated someone. For years I’d thought to myself how great it would be to be in a relationship, to have someone I cared about more than others, who cared about me more than others. I remember waiting. I thought to myself, it will be so good when it happens. And then it did happen. Suddenly I found myself waiting again. It was awkward and weird and I found myself waiting for when it wasn’t awkward and weird anymore. And before I knew it, it was done. I went back to waiting. Waiting to find someone I could love, waiting to get done with college and started in the real world, waiting for all my hopes and dreams to fall into my lap. What I had wasn’t enough. I could have been happy. I was in a rather expensive college and somehow managing to afford it. I was doing well with my grades despite my overall disinterest with what I was studying. I had quite a few friends who cared about me a lot. But I didn’t have what I want, so what I had didn’t seem like very much at all. Then, seemingly overnight, it was gone. Gone because of my impatience, gone because of my unwillingness or inability to accept what was in my life now. It was gone, and it was probably not coming back. I’d lost my friends, I’d been kicked out of school, and my grades… well yeah they were still pretty decent but what good were they doing me now?
With seemingly nothing left, I for some reason thought back to Silone’s novel. During my semester off, I read it again. This time I read not to study but to enjoy it. When I again reached this quotation, it struck me rather profoundly. What had I really been living my life for up to this point? Some future that would suddenly materialize in front of me. And when it didn’t, I was shattered. This quotation became part of the foundation of my new self, along with the brilliant words of CS Lewis and others.
You see, to live provisionally is not simply to wait, paralyzed in the present, for your future to come to you. It’s much more than that – to live provisionally is to not appreciate what exists in your life now.
When I was exiled from college for a semester, friends I never knew I had slowly came out of the woodwork to ask me what was wrong, what they could do to help. At first it scared me. Then it changed me. These people were always there in my life. I’d just been so distracted by my worries of what may come tomorrow that I never knew these people were there. For the first time in my life, I appreciated them as they were, not as they might be.
Now, four and a half years after the great turmoil in my life, who am I? I am a man who worked at a minimum-wage convenience store for a year and a half and loved it. I am a man who worked as a restaurant dishwasher for six months and loved it. I am a man who currently works respite for children and adults with mild disabilities. And I love it. I don’t know what may come tomorrow. I don’t know if I’ll ever continue my education. I don’t know if I’ll become a professor or a writer or an actor. I don’t know if I’ll ever fall in love. And none of it scares me. I thank God every day for my failures, for if I had succeeded I might still be waiting for even greater success.