Bahya ibn Pakuda, Duties of the Heart, Gate 5 (Devotion), Chapter 5
It is said of a pious man who met some men returning from a war against enemies, and they brought spoils after a raging battle. He said to them: "you returned from the small war with spoils; now prepare for the big war!" They asked: "which big war?" He answered: "the war of the yetzer and his legions.”
Bill McKibben, Falter, 2018, pp. 226–8
In our current culture, we find the idea of maturing less exciting than the idea of growth because, I think, in our own lives, maturation is bittersweet. When we were young and growing, we could do and choose anything; no options had been foreclosed. Maturity…..means making choices: to commit to one person, one career, one community…..If we admire individuals for those traits, it’s possible we can learn to admire societies for the same things.
Societies are measured not just by the things they build, but also by the things they can bring themselves to leave alone: whales, bright-plumed birds, mountains, children kept safe from Dickensian labor. The most curious of all…lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint. We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.