"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
(Invictus - William Ernest Henley)
I was eighteen years old, admitted to fourth floor of St. John's hospital. My roommate was a beautiful artist, and I - a poet. Together, we made designed posters for everyone's doors... posters that described the residents and offered a little inspiration to each of them. But the most important poster we made had very little in the way of artwork, was not my own writing, and had copies made for each of the girls on the floor. This poster was quite simply the last stanza of Invictus. These were the words we lived by. They gave us hope, and motivation.
I remember one day when my pastor was visiting me, he saw one of these posters and asked about it. I explained it's importance. He couldn't understand - he didn't agree with the writing. We were wrong to cling to something so petty and silly and senseless. It went against God and faith.
Fourth floor was the psychiatric floor of the hospital. This is where the "crazy" kids went. I was admitted against my will for depression, suicide and runaway. Most of the other girls were also in there for these reasons. I was the oldest at 18, and should have been put in the adult ward, but they felt I would get along better with the teenagers. They were probably right. The youngest there at the time was only 13. And she looked up to me. I never fully knew her story... we would offer only enough during group discussions to keep the nurse from hounding us, but never shared our complete stories. Anyone who's been through certain things knows better than to share these stories with strangers... or with anyone who could use the information to hurt you. But, I knew her dad had been raping and beating her. That truth was being screamed from her very core. Of course, not everyone could hear it. But I could. And some of the other girls could. And thus Invictus became important.
Invictus held a truth to us. Regardless of what my pastor had told me, Invictus did incorporate God and faith, but with a security attached. For an abused child, God was seen as either non-existent, or worse, someone whom had abandoned us. But at the same time, we felt an unbelievable need to pray, and to seek comfort and wisdom and salvation. But to admit this was a sign of weakness. Weakness was not allowed. Invictus was this prayer, this comfort, but without any weakness attached.
"It matters not how strait the gate" - Matthew 7:13-14 mentions this strait (narrow) gate: 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
So yes, we had been forced through this narrow gate - this way of torment and obstacles and difficulty. But this does not matter. We can survive it.
"How charged with punishments the scroll" - this is believed to refer to the "list of sins" God keeps on all of us. Basically, all the wrongs we've committed in this lifetime.
"I am the master of my fate - I am the captain of my soul." - this is the part my pastor had the most issue with. God is supposed to be the master of our fates and the captain of our souls. But to us, when used in conjunction with the rest of the stanza, these two lines were a source of strength.
The whole thing together meant... no matter what hardships we must go through, no matter how much we've stumbled and done wrong, we can survive. We can get through it. And no MAN (or woman) will EVER control our soul or determine our fate. This will be determined and controlled by the strength within us.
Perhaps this strength came from our belief in God. Most often, it did. At least to a degree. But even if God is/was the source of strength, there is also a personal responsibility implied through these words. One issue I have with people that I have stated time and again is that they lack personal responsibility. They go to Church on Sunday, and sin the rest of the week, without even attempting to be a "good" Christian. If you follow the last two lines of Invictus, it is up to each of us to be the master and captain - we are in charge of the day to day decisions we make of whether or not to sin. And we are responsible for "how charged with punishments the scroll."
I still cling to these words, 20 years later. No, they do not come from God or the Bible. But there is a truth within them - a truth which does not have to defy God or religion, but can strengthen it.While at times I stumble in my belief, the poem to me means that God gives us strength so that no matter how much life sucks, we can make it through; and no matter what people throw at us, we still have the strength within us to make the right decisions.