The most important words a man can say are, “I will do better.” These are not the most important words any man can say. I am a man, and they are what I needed to say.
The ancient code of the Knights Radiant says “journey before destination.” Some may call it a simple platitude, but it is far more. A journey will have pain and failure. It is not only the steps forward that we must accept. It is the stumbles. The trials. The knowledge that we will fail. That we will hurt those around us.
But if we stop, if we accept the person we see when we fall, the journey ends. That failure becomes our destination.
To love the journey is to accept no such end. I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.
Earlier this evening, I read a post where someone was talking about Dalinar, a character in Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy series The Stormlight Archive. Specifically, they referenced his climactic scene in Oathbringer, the third book of the series. In that scene, Dalinar confronts Odium—for better or worse, the books’ equivalent of evil incarnate, but also passion. Emotion. Fury both angry and righteous.
Odium, much like the common conception of Satan, is a tempter. Though armies loyal to him are slaughtering the human forces, he offers Dalinar an out. Freedom for humanity (of a sort, as they would be in service to him) for a simple price: the pain one man keeps inside.
When I first read Oathbringer, I didn’t think much of that scene. Now, however, I think back on it and see it as a mirror reflection. All I have to do is give up my pain, and the world is saved? Honestly, I’ve been willing to offer exactly that in my darker moments.
But Odium is offering a drink from a poisoned chalice here. It’s not merely pain he’s demanding, but a part of the self. We are the sum total of all our experiences, good and bad alike. Change any one part, any one action or inaction or feeling or memory, and we wouldn’t be us anymore. We would become someone different.
Pain hurts. If it didn’t, painkillers, antidepressants, and alcohol wouldn’t be so commonly abused. What we have to do, then, is give meaning to the pain. Learn from it. Instead of burning us away, let its fire temper us and therefore make us stronger. Otherwise, we’re hurting in vain.
Dalinar was tempted. Who wouldn’t be? In the end, he understood that all of it, all the pain he had caused and had endured, had a purpose. And so he stared in the face of a literal god and said, “You cannot have my pain.”
I only wonder if I could do the same.
I have stumbled. I have been tried and found wanting. I have failed and hurt those around me. Family, friends, those I love in any way, they have seen me fall. Worse, they have seen me not want to get back up. They have seen me ready to lie down and let the journey end.
We aren’t dealing with genocidal deities, supernatural storms, and semi-sentient hordes in our world, but the battle is no less real. It’s no less painful. While I certainly hope the destination is a good one, I can’t say for certain, so the journey really is all I have. If it ends, so do I, and…I’m not sure I’m ready to see my journey’s end just yet.
To everyone I’ve hurt, everyone who has seen me hurt, I can’t put into words how sorry I am. I don’t know if I’m ready to speak “the hardest words a man can say” yet, but I believe I could get there.
Not alone, though. Not without a lot of help.
As it’s getting too late tonight, I’ll start reaching out on a more personal level tomorrow. Until then, know that I’m thinking of all of you, and it hurts to see what I’ve done, how I’ve failed to live up to the ideals I’ve adopted.
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before destination.
Help me find the conviction to speak those words, to believe in them and take the next step, the most important step. And then I know I can swear that oath: I will do better.