To J. Allen Gilbert
Dear Dr. Gilbert, 20 April 1946
Your letters have reached me after all. It was a great pleasure to see that you haven’t changed yet, you have continued the “rhinoceros walks.”
I remember vividly those tracks of the pachyderm in the African jungle, and still more the smooth footpaths of the hippopotamus whose customs are of clock-like regularity.
I was very glad to see, too, that you have discovered how great the analyst’s modesty is in speaking of “analysis” instead of “programmatic synthesis.”
There is a reasonable amount of certainty that we can show a patient what there is, but we cannot hand out the thing which he ought to do.
Because it is so difficult to do something about one’s own life, we are also careful not to reveal too much to an individual what he might be expected to do or what the tasks of his life would be leading him to, because we know how difficult it is to do anything at all.
So when a patient complains that he knows exactly what he might do, I say: Well, you are in the position of everybody who knows what he might do; he has now to set to work to do at least something of it and to find out how to do it.
There would be no difficulty in life if one always knew beforehand how to do a thing.
Life is some sort of art and not a [straight] rail or a ready-made product to be had at every corner.
Your plan to submit to an experiment like a rabbit would be quite a good idea if you would have the courage to do it by your own means.
I could only show you how to introvert, but such an experience wouldn’t be your own if anybody else put you through it.
The point is just that you can put yourself through it, as anybody would who tried to live his own life.
Nobody can live it for you or instead of you. Your life is what you try to live. If I should try to put you through something it would be my life and not yours.
At your age I shouldn’t worry any more what one could do with your life.
You should rather think of what you still can do with it. And in your place I wouldn’t seek such an experiment as it is already
near at hand, because the end of life will put you exactly into what you always tried to get into.
But unfortunately you tried it in an indirect way and under the guidance of somebody else.
But when you die, nobody else will die for you or instead of you. It will be entirely and exclusively your own affair. That has been expected of you through your whole life, that you live it as if you were dying.
So it will happen to you as it happens to most people. They die in exactly the same ways as they should have lived. Good Lord, how many impersonations do you reckon you need to understand this simple truth?
As I see from your letter, you are still going strong and I hope that you will continue still for a while in the same way.
That is a fair chance for you to meditate a bit deeper about how one ought to live.
At the time of his last letter G. was 78. He died at 81 . ~Pages 422-423