Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
—Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
I recently reread The Tempest for my Western Civilization class. This passage, located in Act 4, Scene 1, almost seems to be a declaration of the fragility and temporariness of life. Ironically, Prospero spoke these lines after the celebration of his daughter Miranda’s and Ferdinand’s union.
Interesting time to expound upon the fragility of human life and the ethereal beauty of our dreams and visions. I suppose if I were getting married, I wouldn’t want my father to give a toast and say, “Sorry to tell you this, but death is going to come sooner than you realize.”
At the same time, it’s sobering to realize that our lives are shorter than we think. Our bodies are not as indestructible as we’d like to believe they are. Even the dreams that consume our thoughts can change upon a whim of circumstance. Perhaps when contrasted with the vastness of eternity, our lives are indeed “little” as Shakespeare notes. Maybe ourselves against the reality of a great God is as a small ship upon a infinite ocean.
To think that I could hold a piece of eternity someday seems presumptuous. To think that by the grace of God, I hold a piece of eternity within me right now seems even more presumptuous. And yet I can say that, because I believed…
We are fragile in the sense that our bodies can easily crumble into dust; however, there remains the fact that there is a Life beyond this life. A Life which lasts for infinity. Often we make the mistake of thinking that our real life is this one, and that the one that comes after is, well, what comes after. In our imaginings and vague sermon descriptions, we feel that that Life is rather like a dream life. Has it ever occurred to us that the life we are living right now, though important to live well, is the dream life?
We could get so used to the life we’re living right now. I don’t mean that we should not love life, because this life is given to us to be loved and enjoyed and lived to its fullest. But we could get used to its smallness and shadows and earthquakes and tsunamis and tempests and petty unseen heartbreaks. We could get used to believing that our shadow life is our reality that we must harden ourselves to and become complacent with. But there is a reason that a yearning exists for something greater than what we are experiencing right now.
I think C.S. Lewis said it best.
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
— The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
Have I ever stopped to think that one day I could be living life as part of some as yet unknown but exciting Great Story? That life could be so much truer and fuller and more whole than what it is right now?
I believe that we do have eternity after all. And that we should live our “dream lives” in anticipation of that which is to come.