Once a barnacle weighed the moral pros and cons of moving on. It was comforting to enjoy the security of a stable life glued fast to the barnacle’s pier, for certain. In a world of tides that came and went, an anchored existence was an advantage increasingly few could claim. Day after day, the barnacle watched those less tenacious than itself lose whatever footing they’d managed to gain. Here today and gone tomorrow, “the dust of the sea” they might be judged. Given the same opportunities as itself for success, they simply must not have tried hard enough, the barnacle increasingly believed. The sea was no doubt filling up with failures of character like these, replaced as soon as they’d disappeared by a new massing of the shiftless, to be followed in their own turn by the same again. And yet therein lay the cause of an unexpected, unsettling perplexity for the barnacle. Simply put, where had they all gone? And without a trace. To remain “at one’s post to the bitter end,” so to speak, was the fulfillment of a moral life’s command, the equivalent of standing shoulder to shoulder against all odds at Thermopylae— on a barnacle scale, of course. It served as a bulwark against every assault of self-doubt that might pull at one as wave after wave crashed over the pier and fell back again into the unknown sea. No doubt about it, the certainty of a solid commitment right through to the last gave one a definite moral edge, when considered in this way. An unshakable sense of being virtue’s yeoman that even a wavering barnacle could hold to and carry on. But simply to vanish without a trace, that was another matter entirely. Knowing nothing at all about the fate of those who’d been swept away by life, the barnacle’s mind cast about for answers. They could be anywhere, be doing anything. Maybe their fortunes had taken a turn for the better. Maybe they’d found a place of second chances and made a go of it, rebuilding their character in others’ eyes from the lapsed state betrayed by once losing their grip on rock-steady convictions. Or maybe not. They might just as easily have slipped further into the murky depths. Into utter darkness that surpassed the barnacle’s ability to fathom as a life. The fact that nothing was ruled out meant all possibilities remained. And if all possibilities remained, if possibilities beyond calculation still existed, then there must be just as many ways of living and as many justifications for adopting one, or even many alternatives to the certainties of the pier, with absolute conviction. In that case, what confidence could you have about the virtues of the one and only life you’d fastened on for yourself, or what self-confidence in having been right by sticking to it? The barnacle was growing dizzy from the implications of such uncertainty. Was it conceivable that a meaningful existence might not actually require an anchor of some sort? Might not require any anchor at all? If you could count on there always being a second chance, or a third or fourth even, to establish yourself in a new place, or in new places over and over again, why worry about the consequences of failure to hold firm from the start? And if you didn’t fear failure, how could you yourself be counted on never to falter in your adherence to what truly mattered in life: resisting the wayward force of the waves at all costs? When moral fortitude and the lure of opportunity seemed at odds, life decisions posed a true dilemma for any self-respecting barnacle. Better to stay put, then, and diligently continue hardening one’s resolve? No matter what?
Copyright © 2012 by Geoffrey Grosshans