Life in 2020: A Few John Updike Phrases to Wake You Up!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Glendale, California

Life in 2020: A Few John Updike Phrases to Wake You Up!

Fending off powerful superego demands for achievement, I lingered in bed until an unbelievable 11am this morning, reading a bit more of John Updike’s classic, Rabbit Is Rich.

It’s a compelling, tragicomic story of an American family during the 1970s when gas prices skyrocketed, the Vietnam War ended, and the vacuousness of upper middle-class life flourished.

A few phrases caught my eye just this morning, and they seem worthy words of wisdom for the first day of the new year, 2020.

But, first, quick background:

Rabbit has worlds of problems with his late-teenage son, Nelson. He can neither understand him nor show him affection, yet he worries Nelson is embarking on a life too similar to his own, failed one.

At one point, trying to talk Nelson out of marrying a woman he impregnated, Rabbit proclaims:

From a certain angle the most terrifying thing in the world is your own life, the fact that it’s yours and nobody else’s. (p. 208).

Isn’t that food for thought?

We have our own lives, of course.

But they exist nested in the lives of those we love not to mention in geography, history, culture and politics.

Can’t do much about geography, history or culture.

Can do at least something about politics.

Can do the most about:


The Greek poet, Pindar, famously said, in Pythian 2, Line 72 (you knew that, I know):

Become such as you are, having learned what that is.

Following his wisdom on authenticity, before anyone even invented that word, what better advice than:

a. Live your own unique, genuine, true life to the fullest. You can discover it through self-reflection, depth-psychotherapy, or meditation. If you were lucky enough to have sound biology and an excellent early childhood experience, you likely already know who you are.

b. Since so much is out of our control, we can all strive for virtue—being kinder, nicer, more considerate human beings. Most religious traditions end in the same place, namely show love—like crazy—since you should, at least, have some control over that.

Rabbit, the main character in Updike’s book, seems neither authentic nor particularly kind. But he does offer wisdom about the passage of time while he is, again, trying to get his son to control his own life. Referring to his false sense of self-understanding, Rabbit tells Nelson:

It’s taken me a fair amount of time to get there. And by the time you get there you’re pooped. The world is full of people who never knew what hit ’em, their lives are over before they wake up. (p. 236).

The take away?

Time to:



Updike, J. (1981). Rabbit Is Rich. New York: Random House.

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