In 1880, Theodore Roosevelt wrote to his brother, “My happiness is so great that it makes me almost afraid.” In October of that year, life was even better. As he wrote in his diary the night of his wedding, “Our intense happiness is too sacred to be written about.” He would consider it to be one of the best years of his life: he got married, wrote a book, attended law school, and won his first public office.
The streak continued. In 1883, he wrote “I can imagine nothing more happy in life than an evening spent in the cozy little sitting room, before a bright fire of soft coal, my books all around me, and playing backgammon with my own dainty mistress.” And that’s how he and Alice spent that cold winter and into the new year. He wrote in late January, that he felt he was fully coming into his own. “I feel now as though I have the reins in my hand.” On February 12th, 1884 his first daughter was born.
Two days later, his wife would be dead of Bright’s Disease. His mother died only hours earlier in the same house of Typhoid Fever. Roosevelt marked the day in his diary with a large “X.” Next to it, he wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.”
As they say, life comes at you fast. It can change in an instant. Everything you built, everyone you hold dear, can be taken from you. For absolutely no reason. Just as easily, you can be taken from them. This is why the Stoics say we need to be prepared, constantly, for the twists and turns of Fortune. It’s why Seneca said that nothing happens to the wise man contrary to his expectation, because the wise man has considered every possibility–even the cruel and heartbreaking ones.
The good news is that the light did not completely go out of Roosevelt’s life. Sure, it flickered. It looked like the flame might have been extinguished. But with time and incredible energy and force of will, he came back from those tragedies. He became a great father, a great husband, and a great leader. He came back and the world was better for it. He was better for it.
Life comes at us fast. Today. Tomorrow. When we least expect it. Be ready. Be strong. Don’t be snuffed out.
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