From Chapter 1 of Saint Josemaría Escrivá’s book The Way: Character
It is inevitable that you should feel the rub of other people’s characters against your own. After all, you are not a gold coin that everyone likes.
Besides, without that friction produced by contact with others, how would you ever lose those corners, those edges and projections — the imperfections and defects — of your character, and acquire the smooth and regular finish, the firm flexibility of charity, of perfection?
If your character and the characters of those who live with you were soft and sweet like sponge-cake you would never become a saint.
The other night I couldn’t sleep and came across an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBCAmerica. You can read a summary of the plot for this episode but summarized further “Tapestry” was somewhat like It’s A Wonderful Life. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard isn’t given the chance to see what life would have been like had he never been born (ala George Bailey) he is instead given the opportunity to see how his life would have been different had he altered his personality as a younger, brash officer and instead been more pragmatic and careful. In short: what would Picard have become in later years had he altered his character and taken fewer risks? He is allowed to find out, and does not like the answer. Instead of the commander of a starship Picard is a Lieutenant junior grade in the astrophysics department. He seeks out First Officer Riker and the ship’s counselor Deanna Troi to have them assess the man he is in their eyes.
PICARD: Please. This is important to me. I believe that I can do more.
TROI: Hasn’t that been the problem all along? Throughout your career you’ve had lofty goals, but you’ve never been willing to do what’s necessary to attain them.
PICARD: Would that be your evaluation as well, Commander?
RIKER: I think I have to agree with the Counselor. If you want to get ahead, you have to take chances, stand out in a crowd, get noticed.
Q: I gave you something most mortals never experience. A second chance at life. And now all you can do is complain?
PICARD: I can’t live out my days as that person. That man is bereft of passion and imagination. That is not who I am.
Q: Au contraire, he’s the person you wanted to be. One who was less arrogant, and undisciplined as a youth. One who was less like me. The Jean-Luc Picard you wanted to be, the one who did not fight the Nausicaan, had quite a different career from the one you remember. That Picard never had a brush with death, never came face to face with his own mortality, never realized how fragile life is or how important each moment must be. So his life never came into focus. He drifted for much of his career, with no plan or agenda, going from one assignment to the next, never seizing the opportunities that presented themselves. … He learned to play it safe. And he never, ever got noticed by anyone.
St. Escrivá points out that when we are involved in the lives of others we will feel a friction that naturally comes with that interaction. After all we are not all alike, and Thank God for that! It is through that interaction that we learn that to become influential or successful we eventually lose those imperfections in our character. Our rough edges are smoothed out. We become more flexible. We acquire wisdom.
At the end of that episode Picard is with Riker and reflecting upon the lessons he learned. He tells Riker: “There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were loose threads, untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I pulled on one of those threads it unraveled the tapestry of my life.”
And so it is with all of us. Do we have regrets? Yes. Are there things we would do differently if we had the chance? Probably. But never forget that it is because of the mistakes of our pasts and the lessons we hopefully glean from them when we take the time to thoughtfully assess and examine our lives that we became the person we are today.
A person who understands just how short and precious this life is.
A person of focus.
A person of character.
A person who can become the saint we are all called to be.