By: Julia Somerset
By Carl Sandburg
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.
I first read this poem right after one of the first big failures of my young life. I had spent six months working on applications to a graduate program I was dying to attend, and I got a shocking rejection. It was pretty devastating, but as always happens, my “Plan B” ended up blessing me in ways I couldn’t imagine at the time.
Life never excuses us from encountering crossroads, and I think we have all learned a similar lesson many times: sometimes we think we want something when something better is around the corner.
Humans have been making great journeys as long as history records. Many of Western culture’s great foundational texts chronicle the epic voyages of heroes, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Odyssey, the book of Exodus in the Bible, Virgil’s Aeneid, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Hess’ Siddhartha, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, and so many others. Every journey story asks two basic questions: What does life mean? And how should we live it?
All of this journeying must be directed at finding something. We seek so that we may find. The point of the journey isn’t the journey itself as some say, but the point of the journey is seldom the destination. The point of the journey is the thousand destinations we find accidentally along the way.
When I look at the choices ahead of me, Sandburg’s words printed above describe the state of my hands—I can feel the weight of blood in my fingers, the strength of the muscles in my palms and forearms, the elastic readiness of the tendons in my joints. The most difficult task of my days is to peel my tenacious fingers from the fist that grasps at air—to set it open on my lap, “hand held out and waiting,” as motionless as a steel trap set open on a forest floor with springs and cables straining.
The open hand is an important image for the Christian. As C. S. Lewis says, “I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He is sure it is good for him to wait.” Let us go through life with an open hand, and clench our fist only when we have something truly great to grasp.