If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
Hamlet says this line, just before entering into a duel with a treacherous opponent—the duel which will cost Hamlet his life.
What made him so confident and ready, even when he suspected that foul play and murder awaited him?
Hamlet’s confidence in the face of death did not stem from self-satisfaction. Quite the contrary, Hamlet is famous for tormenting himself with self-doubt. He repeatedly accuses himself of pathetic cowardice. Hamlet’s admirers, like Ophelia, had thought him the paragon of princeliness, a true Renaissance gentleman. But he searched his own soul and found confusion, indecision, and weakness.
Yet the melancholy Dane stood ready and peaceful when doom befell him. Where did his readiness come from? From his most conspicuous quality: Zeal for the truth consumed him. Hamlet never lived by self-serving delusions. He did not fear death, because he regarded it as the inevitable fact that it is.
[Click HERE to read the parable of the ten virgins.]
The foolish virgins brought no oil with them. They had not bothered to consider their situation. They lived in a fantasy world where oil lamps burn forever and never run out. They accepted the invitation to the wedding without thinking what the night could really be like. Their heads were filled with conceits about pretty dresses, and wine flowing, and music.
But sometimes bridegrooms are long delayed. Camels can go lame; roads can be washed out by floods; enemies can attack. Pretty fantasies from bridal catalogues can get scotched by the inconveniences of real life.
The wise virgins were ready because the truth interested them. They anticipated that they could be in for a long night. “My lamp only holds so much oil. I had better bring a flask with some extra. If I don’t need the extra oil tonight, I will burn it when I have to stay up to clean the table linen tomorrow night.”
Reality may not be glamorous. But it’s all we’ve got.