“Professor Gilbert Murray has termed the centuries between the flowering of classical Athens and the growth of the radically different garden of the early Christian era the period of the Failure of Nerve.”—Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology
Damn, I like that: “the period of the Failure of Nerve,” though I’m not entirely inclined to agree with it. Failure of Nerve?—Perhaps more accurately one of a protracted Redirecting of Nerve.
For in the end, it is a period similar to that which we are in the midst of today, comparable to the declining years of an individual’s life, say those in and around his or her seventieth year. The great deeds of courage, the great age of discovery and expansion lie in the past. The creative fires of youth may still smoulder warmly, but the capacity for indefatigable effort and achievement has been betrayed by Time. The vision is no longer untroubled with thoughts of immortality and the frame no longer burning with romantic longing and an ever-present immanent sense of fulfillment. It is an age of prose rather than that of poetry. Granted, the intellectual faculties might seem to be at their apogee, but that is an illusion. It is a period of collation, a gathering together of what has already been accomplished, not one of radically new forays. It is an age, in short, to celebrate the past, to revel in the what has been and is, rather than what will come.
Wow, I hear you say, what does that leave us? That’s a damned and pessimistic outlook, isn’t it?
Not necessarily. Every ending engenders a new beginning—that is, if you believe there are such things as endings and beginnings. Every passing is balanced out with a birth.
It’s all in how you choose to look at it. Focus on that which is impermanent, perishable, and you risk losing sight of that which abides, flows on into new generations, blossoms anew.
Failure of Nerve? Nerve abides and unfolds too. Nerve that served Life in so many ways in the years, decades, and centuries past need rediscover time and time again how to serve Life once more.
Failure of Nerve? Only if we fail. Fail to live up to our potential, fail to look Life in the eye and have our say.
For your sake and all our sakes, don’t fail.