Saturday, January 11, 2014

30 Days of Quotes About Life ~ Day 11 ~ Mark Twain

Day 11 ~

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”

Mark Twain


Oh, these quotes.

Hi. You're still here. It's the weekend again, so pull up a chair. Mark Twain was the pen name for Samuel Clemens, one of the most well loved writers in the history of the United States. His early works were light and comedic, and they grew increasingly more serious as he grew older, which only makes sense to me as a writer who has seen my own voice evolve over the years.

This quote is one that I knew I was going to have to do a little bit of digging on, just because of the way that the last bit of it can be interpreted.

First, let's talk about good friends and good books.

Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

I have been lucky in life to have been surrounded with many wonderful people. Some people came into my life and left, some because time and distance just intervened, others because we outgrew the need for each other, others because of things that happened and damage done. There are some though, a few at least from every period of time in my life, that I am fortunate to have around still.

Good friends understand what is going on with you, won't try to solve your problems all the time, will commiserate when that's what you need, will drag you out of the hole when you need that too. I have friends that I have gone years without talking to, for no reason in particular, only to totally reconnect with them one day. When you can pick up as though no time has passed, that's a marker of a true friend. They are the people you want to share your good news with, the ones you can tell the bad.

They will make you laugh until you cry and let you cry until you laugh.

Books. I am a confessed bibliophile and make it a point to both dwell in used bookstores as often as I can and avoid them at all cost because if I had my way, I'd have an entire wall in my house with library shelving and they would all be full. I love to read. Now that I love to write, I love to read even more.

Books take us to places we will never go, they let us be people we will never be. They let us dream, they help us mourn. I could go on and on and on about this, but I suppose you would tire of it. And we still have that last piece of the quote to talk about.

A sleepy conscience, he says, is essential to an ideal life. What does that mean, though? A search of it brought me most frequently to this description of conscience, penned by the Catholic Church:

Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.

A sleepy conscience would then be when a person ignores this, which is how most people on the internet interpret his quote.

Taking this definition of it as an absolute truth of what Twain meant, though, is a logical misstep because the Catholic Catechism wasn't written until John Paul was Pope, decades after Twain said the words.

I tend to think that he meant something different anyway. 

He was actually fairly outspoken when it came to the topic of religion, so I'm not even convinced that he meant for it to be a religious view of conscience at all.

Conscience comes from something more, in my opinion. The construct of religion may be the most common way to teach and explain the concept, but the link between the two isn't absolute by any means. Plenty of atheists are good people with a strong sense of conscience, and plenty of religious people are evil. It isn't the presence or absence of faith that defines this for me, not at all. 

Conscience is more than just making the right decisions, I think. It's more than doing the right thing. It's more complicated than that. There are nuances to every aspect of human behavior, differences in what we each sense is right and just. 

I think that Twain is saying here that a sleepy conscience is one that allows for those differences, for the flaws in humanity, for understanding that not everyone else is like we are, thinks like we do. I think he means for it to be more about acceptance than anything else. For the idea that no man is an island, no one qualified to dictate how others shall live, that everyone will make mistakes and that we all need to be more forgiving and understanding of the faults of ourselves and one another. 

I think maybe he's telling us all to take ourselves and everyone else a little less seriously.

Give people are little breathing room. Give some to yourself. 

Friends, books, wiggle room.

Sounds pretty good to me.

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