There's a story about some Gadol (I'm afraid I don't recall the name) who used to be a bit of wild kid. One day, when he came home from school, he heard his parents talking in the kitchen, reaching a decision that it wasn't worthwhile to send his to school anymore, considering his behavior, so they would apprentice him to a blacksmith. The boy rushed into the room and begged for one more chance, and of course, behaved himself from then on and became a Gadol. His first sefer, he throws a huge seudah and tells this story, finishing by saying "Now imagine I would have become a blacksmith. I would have been a good person, said tehillim, been conscientious, and so on and so forth. Eventually, I would have died and gone up to Heaven, and they would have said, 'So, where's that sefer?' 'Sefer?Um....I'm a blacksmith...' 'Yes, sefer. You know, that you wrote while running your yeshiva?' 'Yeshiva? Um...remember the bit about blacksmith? How on earth do you expect me to have written a sefer or had a yeshiva?'"
Lovely story, no? And told so very Tales from the Maggid-esquely as well. I find it absolutely terrifying. Because I'm never going to be particularly great, by any standards of greatness. Mediocre, sure. Not bad, certainly. Quite decent, I can aspire to. But great? And that's generally okay. 99.9% of people are neither capable of achieving true greatness nor expected to have done so. But what if one wakes up dead one morning and suddenly discovers that they were supposed to have been that .1%?
And the vision is especially scary because it's close to my personal picture of the whole hell thing- realizing what you are as compared to what you should be and feeling really, really stupid. Eternally.
I just finished reading a book a biography of John and Abigail Adams (Those Who Love) and it's pretty darn intimidating stuff. Because the people who made the country, despite by and large all being related or neighbors, were not really born into anything. It was a strict sort of meritocracy- if you were smart enough or stubborn enough or cunning enough and had just a bit of luck, you could make history. And there were no garauntees. One of John Adams' sons became president; another drank himself into an early and bankrupt grave, while a third became a solid, if dull, contract lawyer. You can say that that's about talents and so forth, but it's also about their decisions and will. What if greatness is just a decision that we make? What if it's one I'm not making? I know that it's all angsty and twenty and junk, but that doesn't make it any less worrisome.