I walked outside and started across campus, sticking to the grassiest and shadiest parts. I’d been there only a few days but had already figured out for myself the shadiest cross-campus route. In fact, I had a good-weather route and an indoor bad-weather route already scouted, one or the other of which I have in fact followed practically every day since. It was late summer and extremely hot, even in the shade. Probably I should have taken the indoor route, but I was feeling surprisingly lively. Light, expansive. I was not dwelling on my disappointing conversation with Maggie, but thinking more generally about careers and what they amounted to. What Maggie’s career had amounted to. The work she’d done had meant something to the world, and her teaching had meant quite a lot to me personally. But I could already see, from the professional perch I had just recently assumed, looking out across the future of my own burgeoning career and thinking about what it would look like when I myself was retiring—I could see how even a career as productive as Maggie’s might look small, in the end, to the person who lived it. I was not depressed, or annoyed at Maggie, but instead was enjoying a kind of pride at how understandable it all seemed. Maggie’s feelings. Maggie’s situation. Everyone’s situation, in the end. How human it was. How inevitable, but also, if you handled it right, how manageable. The toil I’d experienced in my twenties, the struggle with my own fantasies of greatness, or whatever, the mental work I’d done to disabuse myself of vague romantic notions of what I would someday accomplish, all of that seemed, in light of this new completely reasonable mindset, to have paid off. I was an adult. I had a career. I understood what Maggie’s career amounted to, and I did not need to pretend that I would accomplish more. Or that my end point would be any better. My career would be what it would be. My life was not larger than anyone else’s. I felt present, prepared. I even knew enough to know that I could not hang on to this wonderfully enlightened perspective. This was just another attitude I was moving through, and my future self would cycle through all my other moods as regularly as ever.

Martin Riker, The Guest Lecture

One must accept the fact that one’s own life may, from a human and historic point of view, be rendered absolutely meaningless by the course of events in which, while trying to participate reasonably, one has only added to the general confusion—if he has added anything at all. The point is, most people seem to think that this implies despair. That it implies renunciation of all hope and all reason. I don’t see that. I don’t consider that my life has to make perfect sense to me at every moment. I certainly do not think it is at all possible for our society to make sense in the way it thinks it can.

Thomas Merton, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander