The Blessing of Single Sentences: Words and Wisdom


One of the great benefits of reading is the combination of pleasure and profit that arises from the marriage of wisdom and words—which is to say, wisdom that owes its revelation and effect to the words chosen to embody it. Anyone who helps us come to terms with the human experience is our friend. Someone who does so in powerful and graceful language is a potential soul friend. (See Celtic Christianity’s “anachmara”)

I came across such a marriage recently in a single sentence in an article by Kevin Williamson : “There is no buying your way out of the human condition, not with money or any other currency.”

This is not a tour de force sentence aiming to be a high thought in a high style. It is simple and direct, but with a breeze of freshness that turns an unexceptional observation into a mind stopper—a stop for reflection and pleasure.

Of course, I’m speaking for myself, and I realize that my response is in part because I find it an echo of my own thoughts, memorably stated. You may pass by this sentence without a glance, as we often do with the wisdom available for our lives. (Writers—especially poets—encourage us to stop and take a closer look.)

Part of me wants the sentence to end in the middle: “There’s no buying your way out of the human condition.” Bam. Deal with it sucker. Quit whining about how difficult life is, or how screwed up society is, or how tough it is to be a believer in the modern world. That’s the situation you exist in, so make something of it. You have it a lot easier than others have or have had it.

But that’s the “tough guy” me. The more empathetic me sees the assertion as more a comfort than an admonition. Life has a lot of pain and more mystery than we would like. Don’t let it get you down. You can find a way forward in all this. Just conform your expectations and actions more closely to how things are.

I would be happy with just the first half of the sentence, but I’m okay that the writer adds more. He quickly dispenses with the illusion that material prosperity holds any key at all to human happiness (once one has sufficient calories and shelter from the rain). And I like the concluding metaphor, “or any other currency.” That covers the multitude of ways we use to escape the reality of mystery, pain, risk, and grace that characterize our very human condition.

This one sentence is a blessing to us—an offering. May our lives be filled with many more.