What Did I Know of Life, I Who Had Lived So Carefully?
Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes is a thought-provoking book in that it gave a picture of how we humans now live and have lived our modern, busy, workaholic lives, only to find that we actually haven’t been living at all. Rather, we have simply let life happen to us. We have not been in control of our lives. We’ve been lazy and safe, simply putting one step in front of the other without thinking deeply where we really wanted to go and what we truly wanted to do.
“We muddle along… I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came.”
Normally, I shun fictions that are filled with too much drama or have a sad subject matter. For me, reading fiction is about escapism, so I read novels that are lively and humorous. For serious subject matter, I prefer to go to non-fiction. Of course, there are many great novels out there that impart beautiful deep lessons. It’s simply a matter of preference. Although Sense of an Ending wasn’t the best written book for me, I truly enjoyed the lessons it gave.
Here are my favourite quotes from the book:
“I remember a period in late adolescence when my mind would make itself drunk with images of adventurousness. This is how it will be when I grow up. I shall go there, do this, discover that, love her, and then her and her and her. I shall live as people in novels live and have lived. There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life. I gave up on life, gave up on examining it, took it as it came. And I had abandoned the ambitions I had entertained. I had wanted life not to bother me too much, and had succeeded – and how pitiful that was. Average, that’s what I’d been, ever since I left school.
“What did I know of life, I who had lived so carefully? Who had neither won nor lost, but just let life happen to him? Who had the usual ambitions and settled all too quickly for them not being realised? Who avoided being hurt and called it a capacity for survival? Who paid his bills, stayed on good terms with everyone as far as possible, for whom ecstasy and despair soon became just words once read in novels?
“I thought of the things that had happened to me over the years, and of how little I had made happen.
“We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them… We make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.
“He took charge of his own life, he took command of it, he took it in his hands. How few of us can say that we have done the same? We muddle along, we let life happen to us, we gradually build up a store of memories. There is the question of accumulation, but not just the simple adding up and adding on of life. There is a difference between addition and increase.
“When we’re young, everyone over the age of thirty looks middle-aged, everyone over fifty antique. And time, as it goes by, confirms that we weren’t that wrong. Those little age differentials, so crucial and so gross when we are young, erode. We end up all belonging to the same category, that of the non-young.
“The more you learn, the less you fear. ‘Learn’ not in the sense of academic study, but in the practical understanding of life.
“Someone once said that his favourite times in history were when things were collapsing, because that meant something new was being born.”
Excerpts From: Julian Barnes. “Sense of an Ending.”