My name is Grant Harper. Since I read the following passage during a Thanksgiving break in my college years, my life has never been quite the same. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but the combination of reading East of Eden and the events and thoughts I was experiencing at the time resulted in one of the defining periods in my life, for which I am very grateful. I hope that you find these profound words inspirational as well.
The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, timshel—‘Thou mayest’—that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’
Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.
This is a ladder to climb to the stars. You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.
And I feel that a man is a very important thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed—because ‘Thou mayest.’
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden