Wishing for Wischau
If hope is the thing with feathers then it must be a prize bird that can never be caged much like Lear’s desire for his daughters’ love, Dante’s longing for Beatrice, or The Pinheads’ quest to rock the Hill Valley High Battle of the Bands. You don’t always get what you want. Sometimes Huey Lewis is just going to shut you down for being too darn loud. Beatrice is going to die before you can put a ring on it. And of your three daughters two will plot your murder and one will be hanged. Hey, these things happen to all of us. When they do it’s important not to be made mad, but kept in temper.
In other words, don’t be Rostov.
Poor soul. He just can’t get control of himself in this chapter. First he’s hyped for battle. But when his squadron is ordered to remain in reserve during the battle of Wischau he buries himself in a suffering of vain depression. All he wanted was to distinguish himself in battle. But, poor guy, he’ll have to settle on being safe and alive in the rearguard. Pity.
Now, when the emperor comes around Rostov is jacked right back up again. His dejection vanishes. His head of state hero worship vaults him to the most extreme heights of happiness. By chapter’s end he is nearly in tears of joy. He toasts his Tsar, wishing he could die for his emperor.
So maybe, for Rostov at least, it’s a good thing we don’t always get what we want.
In the play of life we are given one role. Our goal should be to perform that role as brilliantly as possible. More often than not, however, we’re much quicker to react to the roles of others and how they affect our own performance. But their role has been written for them and our role has been written for us. It’s kind of silly to be like Rostov, raging or delighting in the things we have no control over.
We should do all we can to show our skill with regard to any external material, without, however, accepting it for its own sake, but displaying our skill with regard to it, whatever it may be. Thus a weaver does not make wool, but employs his skill on what is given to him.
Epictetus, The Discourses