Foreword | December 11, 2020

Fighting Back

Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray

from the straight road and woke to find myself

alone in a dark wood.

—Dante, The Divine Comedy

While temperamentally many of us imagine human lives to be stable, a simple factual recounting of what happens through time proves that they seldom are. Surprises and shocks are in store for most of us. Bruce Feiler’s new book Life is in the Transitions discusses this idea abstractly and by example from detailed interviews of hundreds of individuals. They show that fixed patterns do not work well as life predictors in such areas as jobs, health, and personal commitments. They also suggest that insofar as we need a set of presumptions about our futures, it should allow for and expect transitions—not just small alterations but big changes. I appreciate this idea because it matches my own life experiences and because it is suggested by the radical changes in understanding in most areas of knowledge, from economics and history to the hard sciences.

Feiler points out that early worldviews were based on natural and cyclical time, partly because of the prevalence of agriculture in human life. Early mythologies were seasonal, though there were exceptions that admitted to linearity or the unexpected, for example in classic religious thought and literature. The nineteenth century moved to a worldview based on mechanical time, which is regular and linear. By the early modern era, the idea of life following a circle had been replaced by a concept of its proceeding through ages or phases or stages that were essentially predictable and fixed.

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