"The Illusion of Second Chances"

Discover the reflective musings on life and time in John Updike's 'Self-Consciousness.' Explore now.

"The Illusion of Second Chances"
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John Updike was an American novelist known for his portrayals of suburban life. His work captured the desires and frustrations of the American middle class, earning him two Pulitzer Prizes. The following text is from a series of self-effacing introspections he wrote at age fifty-five, after a successful writing career.
He begins by noting an "idle aesthetic delight" in his grandsons, a pleasure he rarely had with his own children "except when they were asleep." The ordinary details of his morning prompt a contemplation of existence. "Can happiness be simply a matter of orange juice?"
Each morning is another chance. The days and years "suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin." And yet life is "inexorably" (unpreventably) linear. "How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once and-doneness."
Can happiness be simply a matter of orange juice? Is it not the singularity of life that terrifies us? Is it not the decisive difference between comedy and tragedy that tragedy denies us another chance?
Shakespeare over and over demonstrates life’s singularity—the irrevocability of our decisions, hasty and even mad though they be.
How solemn and huge and deeply pathetic our life does loom in its once and-doneness, how inexorably linear, even though our rotating, revolving planet offers us the cycles of the day and of the year to suggest that existence is intrinsically cyclical, a playful spin, and that there will always be, tomorrow morning or the next, another chance.

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John Updike Collection