by Monim Wains
To the ones who lead good lives that are completely unremarkable. Those who live happy and fulfilled without doing anything that seems significant. To the vast majority of you. Have we all failed?
No. Of course not. But what does that mean? Why is it that when history is taught, and the human story written, it is revolutionaries who get all the glory? They are few and strange and far between. Compared to the real history of us, they are the ones who pale into insignificance.
They shine bright for a brief moment like shooting stars in the night sky. But isn’t the point of a shooting star to fall? To leave behind the millions and millions of real stars that light up the sky? Never changing, few named, but also, never forgotten. If the night sky is beautiful because of the stars that beset the meteor, why is it not true for history?
I tend to imagine, mostly for my own sanity, that I’m not that different to others in the way that I think or the things that I do. If you and I were to truly understand each other, I think we would find much more in common than in difference.
Assuming that, perhaps you have also felt like this. Felt like history and regard belong to giants on whose shoulders even taller giants have stood. Perhaps you have also felt small in the vastness of their shadows. Maybe you even came here, to Oxford, trying to grow out of that.
But I question whether being the tallest of all is really that great. Whether glory and history – revolution – is ever the same as happiness. No doubt, there are countless changes on which the world rests. Heroes and geniuses, saints and warriors, emperors and judges, on whose sole word the world has turned a new revolution. Rare people who brought about change in the hearts of the masses. We owe so much of our wealth, health and knowledge to these people. And we wish to be like them.
We wish to spend this one life we have doing something remarkable. Maybe just important, if not remarkable. So, we run towards the idea of change. A change that we could bring about. Changing society for the better with an industrial business, or with research that saves lives. Considering the niches of Oxford’s courses, maybe dreaming to one day be known in your own field.
In one way or another, we dream of changing the world. It is noble to want that. You are good for wanting to make the world a better place. But is that really what you want after all?
Think again about when you dream. Just before you open your eyes, when the very tips of your lips pull up into a smile only you can see. When you have dreamt of being on top of the world, are you smiling because you have made your revolution, or is there something further? Does your dream end when you change the world, or does it go, in reality, to the point where you are happy?
Underneath every revolutionary, every single person who has stood to make the world better, has there not been a silent cry for a happiness they felt was missing? A happiness for themselves and others. Is that not you?
Revolution is difficult. It takes courage, sacrifice, and luck for any change to truly stick. Luck. And no matter how much you push yourself, how much you sacrifice and give to change the world, I think life lets you know not to be that arrogant. You can’t really change the world. We can, in little shifts, person to person, one by one as we always have done. We can brighten up the sky together, but never as a single star. Of course, society will pick a handful of heroes from that. Maybe you will be someone it picks to remember. I don’t know, but you can never tell, or ensure that that will happen, no matter how hard you try.
But I think – I hope – that the end of that dream is something we can still reach. It’s often strange thinking about people older than us who are happy without having done anything remarkable. Maybe it is youth? Revolution at an age when we break away from childhood while being sheltered from the dull bluntness of life. So many people whose dreams haven’t been fulfilled, being happy. Maybe it is a lesson that age tries to teach everyone. Your dreams are unlikely, if not impossible: accept it.
Yet, I think I will dream. Dreams that I know I could never fulfil. Or at least I know that they are so incredibly unlikely that I should never expect to fulfil them. But at the end of all of those dreams, there is one dream I do wish for. For happiness. And I wonder if the rest of my dreams will ever lead to that.
Instead, if I am honest, it will be a humbleness to accept life for what it is and to take what I have been given within that. Don’t mistake this for apathy. There is a bug in me that I hope will never let me stop dreaming. And I wish to have the will to sacrifice whatever I need to reach as close as I can to that. That is good, I think. I should strive for revolution because that is how revolution happens, but I should never expect it to work. Not for me.
And if – when – I fail, and you fail, and we fail with the host of human stars that have failed before, we will still have kept that one dream. One that will not change the world. A dream with only a handful of friends, a quiet night, and a warm blanket.
Unnamed, unknown, irrelevant. Having failed a revolution.