It was Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. If you’ve never read it, it’s one that you should consider.
At one point a character named Jubal Harshaw talks about a sculpture by Auguste Rodin called Fallen Caryatid with Stone.
This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She's a good girl---look at
her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the
gods...and still trying to shoulder her load, after she's crumpled under it.
But she's more than just good art denouncing bad art; she's a symbol for
every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women---this
symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining
fortitude until they crumpled under their loads. It's courage...and victory.
Victory in defeat, there is none higher. She didn't give up...she's still
trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her...she's all the unsung heroes
who couldn't make it but never quit.
I don’t know art. I can look at a sculpture or a painting all day long and never come up with an interpretation that is more than, “well isn’t that lovely,” or “I don’t get it.” But books I get. I rely on books and other people to give me the meaning of art. In this small, controversial book of SciFi is the meaning of life, of one form or another.
We all have a load to shoulder, and even if we crumple under it’s load, we still have to try. Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” I don’t see despair in the Fallen Caryatid, I see strength. Building on what Heinlein said, maybe we should give up our desperation for some of the strength we need to take our various loads and shoulder them once more.
Maybe that’s what true strength is. To throw down our various loads, to give up and to say that the burden is too much, well that might be the definition of true cowardice.
I don’t know… I’m just an old English major trying to shoulder my loads as best I can.