Digression, as part of oration has been around since, at least, Cicero; and as part of composition since, at least, Homer. In other words, It’s been around forever. Laurence Sterne famously said (or wrote):
“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer – he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”
In that one sentence, Sterne both validated the use of digression in his Tristram Shandy and, more important, laid bare a most important essential to a good life: a life lived without digressions is, of course, impossible but it is also just those digressions that make life interesting.
This is the time of year to consider. To look forward to the new year. To make resolutions. To see where we’ve digressed from our paths, and to make corrections. Or, perhaps, to take off on a new path altogether. To discover that some digression we’ve inadvertently made is worth pursuing; is worth our effort.
No life is a straight trajectory from beginning to end. Rather it is a wandering. It is only the foolish mind that believes it controls the steady heart. (That’s putting it romantically!) Of course, it’s the mind that is always in control and it’s foolish to think otherwise. (That’s putting it more exactly.) When our minds take us off in odd directions, when we digress from our main purpose, it is often the wise, quiet part of the mind (the part of our mind often confused with our heart), that knows us best, that leads us on.
There is a time for will power, of course: for having a set goal and taking the driven path. But keep to the driven path by will power alone at your peril. You may succeed to ‘stick to it’ but at a great cost.
Life needs its digressions. Think of a digression as a little test–a proof when you return to the driven path that the path is the right one. Or think of a digression as a little holiday–a rest from the everyday. Or think of a digression as an inevitability–because it is.
A life, in fact, can be seen as a chain of diversions strung together like pearls in a necklace. Good pearls are connected and separated by small knots, tied to protect one pearl from rubbing up against another. Life is like that. We protect ourselves from thinking too much about the places where we change directions; we keep ourselves from rubbing up against our inconsistencies–because we see our changes in direction, our diversions, as bumps in the road, as wrong turns, when all along they were simply knots between the pearls in our string of life.
M L S Baisch