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On The Importance Of Placing Second

October 15, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

The second, to be mathematically precise, is the time required for a cesium-133 atom to complete 9,192,631,770 oscillations. A lot more can happen within a second than most people realize. Science’s notion of exactitude has little in common with the ordinary man’s understanding of life.
Fascinating as this fact is, as well as completely beyond human comprehension, the duration of the second is not the subject of this essay, but “second” referring to coming after first (from the Latin sequor: “I follow”).
In his book, What’s Wrong With the World, G.K. Chesterton refers to the principle of the second wind. “In everything worth having,” he writes, “even in every pleasure, there comes a point or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure.”
The joy of learning comes after the boredom of studying; the elation of victory comes after the tedium of training; and the success in business comes after the drudgery of labor. We should not quit on anything before we catch that second wind that will get us over the hump.
In sports, we admire the athlete who makes that critical second effort that is needed to secure a rebound in basketball or to drive a tackling into the end zone in football. The primary effort is expected, but it is often that second effort that makes the difference between winning and losing.
Just as the second wind requires persistence, the second effort presupposes determination. It is the will to continue that demands virtue, not so much the first attempt.
According to the adage, “Everyone deserves a second chance.” Here, the virtue of forgiveness comes into play. It is unrealistic to expect people to refrain from making mistakes. We all find ourselves in a situation where we need a second chance to amend things or to straighten out our lives. The second chance allows for atonement. It gives us hope. It relieves us from the pressure of doing everything right the first time. Theologically, we never run out of second chances with God, only time.
Blessed are the poor because they appreciate the value of things that are secondhand. Secondhand clothes and secondhand books are the affordable possessions of the needy and the curious. They can be as serviceable as their counterparts that are owned for the first time. They represent values that endure, rather than items that must be discarded. They are a tribute to the resourcefulness of their owners. Secondhand means second rate only to the fastidious.
The second look is usually a complement. We will never be remembered if we are brushed off with a momentary look. On the other hand, we stand to miss something important when we fail to give it a second look. If love does not flower at first sight, perhaps it needs a second look. The idea that we have only one chance to make a first impression is highly misleading. Our second chance gives us a better chance to make a lasting impression. In Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Adele sings, “Look me over once. Look me over twice. You will not remain in the dark.”
No one wants to be dismissed with a glance. The essence of Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy lies in the fact that he is willing to look over what most people overlook.
Perhaps the most important in our inventory of things coming in second is the second thought. This has special significance in the world of philosophy. There is no philosophy, however impoverished, that is devoid of any connection whatsoever with truth.
What is wrong with a bad philosophy is always what is omitted. Pro-abortionists rally around a philosophy of choice. Naturally, human beings need to make choices and it would be inhuman to deny them the capacity to choose. Nonetheless, a second thought would indicate that not all choices are good. Consequently, choices should be ordered to what is good, and killing the unborn is hardly a good, nor is larceny, forgery, and other villainies. Choice, therefore, is an incomplete philosophy because it omits the notion of good which is needed to morally validate choice.
It is rather impetuous to find a single partial truth and then elevate it into a philosophy. Choice alone cannot be a philosophy. The search for wisdom needs more than one thought. Rights should not be separated from duties, nor should liberty be severed from responsibility. Dostoevsky talked about how a university student (Raskolnikov, for example, in Crime and Punishment) can have his mind infected by incomplete ideas that float on the wind.
The second thought is also important in human relations. We rush to judgment if all we have is an initial thought about another person. The second thought introduces additional truths that might change one’s perception of the other as well as one’s judgment. Second thoughts are also needed in order to have time to think about the possible inadequacy of one’s first thought. Thinking is necessary, but it should not be shut down prematurely. Justice to others as well as justice to philosophy takes time and therefore must enlist many second thoughts.
Eve was the second sex in the order of creation. This, however, is no indication of any kind of inferiority. She was fashioned, as Genesis informs us, from human substance, whereas Adam was created from dust. In addition, Eve was spared the “cosmic loneliness,” to cite the expression used by John Paul II in his Theology of the Body, that Adam suffered. She was made from a human and born directly into a human relationship. Unlike Adam, she did not need to serve an apprenticeship as a gardener or a zookeeper.
Finally, we think of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who takes on flesh and lives among human beings, precisely as a human being.
Arriving second has its values, something about which a good parliamentarian could doff his hat and say in a loud voice: “I second that.”

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