Travels with Charley: In Search of America
By John Steinbeck
"During the previous winter I had become rather seriously ill with one of those carefully named difficulties which are the whispers of approaching age. When I came out of it I received the usual lecture about slowing up, losing weight, limiting the cholesterol intake. It happens to many men, and I think doctors have memorized the litany. It happened to so many of my friends. The lecture ends, "Slow down. You're not as young as you once were." And I had seen so many begin to pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood into a kind of spiritual and physical semi-invalidism. In this they are encouraged by wives and relatives, and it's such a sweet trap.
Who doesn't like to be a center for concern? A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for the promise of a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the house becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I've lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage. My wife married a man; I saw no reason why she should inherit a baby. I knew that ten or twelve thousand miles driving a truck, alone and unattended, over every kind of road, would be hard work, but to me it represented the antidote for the poison of the professional sick man. And in my own life I am not willing to trade quality for quantity. If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway. I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage. It's bad theater as well as bad living."
This is my favorite quote of any book I've read to date. I remember reading it for the first time, how moved I was because I --at a much younger age than Steinbeck when he wrote set off on his journey-- was feeling the pull toward that "trap." In reality I had just turned 30 and was feeling old, and thought my best, and most active years, were behind me. Upon reading this, however, it all made perfect sense. I don't ever have to quit being active, pushing myself, and that it's quite alright --even preferred-- to live a full life of "fierceness."
Thanks for posting the passage up in its entirety. I never get tired of going back and re-reading it as a reminder to avoid that "sweet trap."
Hi SC, thanks for your comment! I also find myself reading this passage time and again. So important to avoid that sweet trap. We're still young!Delete