Michael Angelo said that when he got a new block of marble, he knew there was a beautiful work of art inside of it and that his job as artist was to chip away all that was not the work of art until the beautiful creation showed up polished and perfect. That is an unusual way of looking at the creative process, but one we understand intuitively. Any activity requiring creativity, such as writing a newspaper column, offers several paths to our goal and our task is to narrow choices down to the one that emerges in our consciousness as the correct one.
Thus, the process seems both random and planned. I think that’s what Robert Frost was expressing in “The Road Not Taken.” It is a poem about two roads making a “Y” in the woods and a traveler deciding to travel on the one less traveled. The conclusion of the poem says that, looking back ages and ages from now, he will see that the road taken made all the difference. Interestingly, the title of the poem leads us to believe it would be about the other road, the one not taken. In a sense it is, if we see the poem as a celebration of taking a chance on leaving the standard, expected life style, that is, the road not taken, to pursue an unknown and unknowable future, wherever it would lead.
Everything in the universe seems in one sense random. Especially when we look at the unevenness of interstellar space or the dicey DNA spiral. But in a deeper sense, there seems to be method in the madness. Scientists are beginning to understand anti-matter and formulate explanations for black holes. But it seems that no formula has been able to encompass the vast unpredictability encompassed in the familiarity of creation. The Hubble telescope continues to blow minds with photographs of phenomena billions of light years away. Witnessing something now at this moment that happened billions of years ago tells me that our concept of time is both shallow and flawed.
One reason I liked the novel and the movie “Forrest Gump” so much is that these works explore the contradictory randomness and planned nature of existence. At his beloved Jenny’s grave, Forrest proclaims that life is both random and planned. He has it both ways and is satisfied with the contradiction. The best exchange in the movie shows the benign practicality of Forrest’s view. It is between Forrest and Bubba. Bubba is mortally wounded, lying in the arms of his best friend Forrest. “Forrest, why did this happen?” he asks. Forrest replies, “You go shot, Bubba.”
Instead of concentrating on the whys and wherefores of our existence on the planet, what if we just kept chipping away at the marble, knowing that we will find the work of art, knowing that in the seeming randomness of our often mundane lives, there is purpose, a deep and profound reason for our having been privileged to occupy some time on this planet, a reason that has eternal consequences.
Hamlet says to his friend Horatio in Shakespeare’s famous play, “There is a purpose for our lives, rough-hew it how we will.” Horatio replies, “’Tis certain.”
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.