Over two centuries ago, a 19-year-old man left France to follow his dream of joining the fight for freedom in the American Revolution. Against the will of the French King, the Marquis de Lafayette procured his own sailing ship to take him to America. Some called him foolish, but soon he was called a hero, and eventually he brought France into the war. Without him, it is unlikely we would have won our independence.
If we could ask Lafayette, “Why did you come to help us?” he would probably tell us that his passion for the cause of freedom was galvanized by the motto emblazoned on his family crest: Cur Non, Latin for “Why Not?”
Today, Cur Non is the proud philosophy of Layfette College in Eastman, Pennsylvania, which challenges its students to move beyond the familiar, the comfortable, the easy. “We dare them to become thinkers and leaders themselves. We offer them opportunities to jump into the thick of things, to take risks, to care deeply. . . . Why not? Why not you? Why not here? Why not now?”
Two hundred years after the American Revolution, Robert Kennedy resurrected the spirit of Cur Non in one of his famous speeches, when he quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream of things that never were and say why not.”
Here’s an idea: What if we adopted the courage and daring imagination of Cur Non into our spiritual life? Would we be less hesitant to follow our dreams? Would we finally pull out the canvas and paint brushes we’ve been secretly holding back? Would we dare to speak out for those being crushed by the powerful and greedy? Would we have the courage to follow the “lure of God” as we say in process theology? Could we galvanize our imagination to look beyond the world of “what is” to the world of “what can be”?
What if the motto Cur Non could be ours? Why not? Great thinkers and artists embed this motto into their creative work all the time. It’s what makes them great.
Van Gogh once wrote, “I dream of painting and I paint my dream.” Such is the spirit of Cur Non. After years of struggle over his vocation, when he finally said, “why not?” to his dream of being an artist, out poured over 2,000 luminous works of art in the span of 10 years. Martin Luther King had a dream, too, and he began painting it with bold, vivid colors, leaving us to pick up that dream and continue to paint justice. Why not dream? Why not create? Why not, against the naysayers, set sail for a revolution of mind and spirit?
Don’t just dream, whispers Cur Non, but paint your dream. Step out of your plushy comfort zone and say “Yes!” to the gladness waiting to rush out in a stampede of purpose and meaning. Simply take one step forward — one step, one breath, one stroke of the brush, and see how it feels. Why not? No one else will do it for you. The clock is ticking. What else have you got to do?
We have dreams tucked away in the drawers of our souls, and these dreams are precious. But we are born on this earth to do more than dream; the spirit of Cur Non beckons us to paint our dreams on canvas, in words, in brave acts that some will call folly; but, if driven by love, will leave an indelible impression on the whole planet so that it spins with just a little more gladness.
Lafeyette dreamed of a world of human dignity and freedom and dared to actualize that dream, fulfilling his family motto of Cur Non. But such stories can be intimidating. These giant figures of history remind us of how small and insignificant our own dreams are in comparison; our efforts wouldn’t make much difference anyway, we think. It would be risky, too. We might as well not try; better to be safe than sorry.
And we would be wrong.
We are all divinely imbued with the motto, Cur Non, “Why Not?” It is emblazoned on the hearts of those yearning for the freshness of adventure; it reaches to the heavens of novel possibility — and then boldly proclaims, Yes!
Our dreams don’t have to be big and flashy, and they are not just for the young and hardy. We can paint them at any age, on a canvas of any size we wish. If we could make our corner of world just a tad more beautiful, slightly more just, and fleetingly more kind, then, why not? Why not paint outside the lines of what is to the world of what can be? Why not now? Why not here? Why not you?