Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy has been haunting me all week. Shakespeare’s description of our lives on this earth means so much more now than it did when I first read the play in high school.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
The fair Ophelia enters, and Hamlet changes focus, but he doesn’t ever lose the thread from that moment on. The enduring power of Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy so many centuries after it was written, (by Shakespeare, not Marlowe — honestly, their styles were so different), lies in its universality. We all fear death, that undiscovered country, even if we claim to know where our soul will travel after those 21 grams escape our cooling bodies.
All we know is this — that which our hands can touch, that which our eyes can see. To leave this, regardless of how bad it may be, is terrifying. And Hamlet made a promise to kill a king, a promise that could only end in his death. His final exit would be voluntary, a prospect that is even more frightening.
But death is not all there is to think on at this time. There are those brief, shining moments that illuminate your days like shafts of sunlight: the first time you saw your child, the moments you actually felt the magnitude of the world you live in — the height of your first sequoia, the coolness and depth of the shade beneath it, the first time you felt sand between your toes, heard the violence of thousands of pounds of seawater slamming against the shore. Each of these moments makes life worth living, worth bearing the whips and scorns of time. The very first time your child calls you mama, or gives you that gummy, toothless, infant grin — what trials can override that?
Don’t let the native hue of resolution be sicklied o’er with pale cast of thought (although I’d advise against the resolution to commit regicide) and don’t let conscience make a coward of you. Live life for the moments of beauty and even sorrow — for death and suffering distill life’s joy down to its purest, most potent form — not in fear of what may come. Love will come, after, for there is a God who gave up everything to make what we’ve destroyed right, a God who promised sacrifice in order to rectify our mistake. We screwed up, and He paid the blood price. Voluntarily. How is that not love? And how can what He has promised us will follow our short, brutal lives be anything but unfathomably real?
It will be more real than this.