The cry of the weak has ascended innumerable times to heaven, since the day when David said: “Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am.” That was a cry for self-knowledge, for strength to overcome, since success must come out of failure, victory out of defeat. And the wise man seeks to know his own weakness rather than the weakness of his enemy. Yet this knowledge of our limitations is such a varying one that it can never have the same meaning to any two persons.
We might say to the youth there are no limitations, beneficent or otherwise. The future lies stretched before him, golden and alluring, with its promise of swift fruition in hope and desire. He is strong; he is confident; he is sure of himself. Obstacles, failure, are words not in his vocabulary. Now, though the arrogance of young, untried strength rejects this word, limitation, an understanding of its meaning marks an epoch in each life. When that time comes is known only to the individual soul, but to him life is never the same again. He knows himself as never before. A beautiful poise of character is reached; he is armed for the struggle of life with a fine contentment, a sweet cheerfulness; and the aspirations of his youth no longer fret his soul.
There seem to be three stages in the study of limitations, which may be characterized thus: the time when we first learn our own limitations and realize that victory must come after defeat, all strength through weakness. Then comes the time when we begin to see the usefulness of limitation, and we adjust ourselves to this new aspect. And at last comes the resignation of old age. Middle life usually brings with it the culmination of a man’s intellectual and physical powers. He is at his best then in the eyes of the world, though he may not have yet reached full fruition in spiritual growth.
Old age, with its physical decadence, has one most beautiful compensation: the spiritual nature is then at its best. The immortal part of the man is strongest, and, while the body weakens under the load of years, these qualities which belong to the spiritual part are constantly growing in richness and grace. Love, which is immortal, gathers deeper and deeper meanings, passing from the groping intuitions of a girl’s first passion, upwards through the devotion of the mother for her children, the immeasurable dependence, the one upon the other, of the truly mated man and woman, upwards again to the divine trust in and love for God. It is then that we finally see the beauty of all limitations, the beauty which they have wrought in our own lives, and the perfect symmetry of all nature in God’s works.
(Carina Campbell Eaglesfield, Books Triumphant: Essays on Literature. New York: F. Tennyson Neely Co., 1901, pp. 80–82).