A rambling introspective on turning 31, the nature of God, and love of neighbor. (This work could be subtitled “Thus ends my political career.”) If it leaves you as lost as a puppy in a sock factory, well, you’re not the only one. Bottom line: I’ve suffered for my writing. Now it’s your turn.
“I’ve been a selfish being all my life.”
—Mr. Darcy, Pride & Prejudice
Introduction: Hi! I’m a jerk. Nice to meet you.
For whatever reason, I find myself more introspective at 31 than I was this time last year. Perhaps these are the ponderings of my 30th birthday come a year late. It’s not inconceivable that I’ve needed this time to take a thoughtful, reasoned look at my life and to reflect on what it means to grow older.
It’s also not inconceivable that I’m an idiot.
What I’m figuring out is all part of my journey toward being the person I’m capable of being, which is not, as some have speculated, the next Ted Kaczynski. I’m discovering things that aren’t always pretty, but sharing them here is undoubtedly cheaper therapy than going to a shrink, so there you have it.
Simply put, my “issues” can be briefly described as a lack of love of neighbor and a lack of willpower. I’ll address these in order, then conclude in a muddled, chaotic crescendo of self-loathing via self-directed ad hominem attacks and character assassination before just telling myself to shape-up and have a nice day.
This is what I get for having HMO mental health coverage.
Brother Can You Spare a Dime? No.
On a fundamental level, I think I’m missing a Christian love of humanity that I consider a core trait to spiritual salvation and to personal growth. I’m not sure if I had it once, misplaced it somewhere and maybe need to check behind the toaster, or if it’s something I never had and now realize it’d be pretty helpful to have.
Make no mistake: I love my family and friends. If you’re uncertain if that means you, either (1) please accept my humble apologies for not making it clear, or (2) please get a clue. But the undeniable fact is that I don’t appreciate the inherent beauty of human beings like maybe I should, and I think this could be a rather tragic issue for me.
Look at the great ones. I mean, Gandhi didn’t have this problem, did he? Privately he might have thought the British imperialists were rat-bastards, but if he did, that didn’t seem to be his public response. Ditto with Martin Luther King Jr. and the racist white segregationists, which is why we rightly laud him instead of Malcolm X. But I’m not sure that I would’ve been as charitable. I have a hard enough time caring about the welfare of the average Joe, so enemies of mine (if there are any) might be beyond redemption.
Now those of you who have read Thomas Merton have a head start in knowing what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that I want, need, or expect a spiritual revelation on a street corner like his where all of a sudden I achieve understanding and love of everyone. But I have no doubt that I need to find more ways to move toward that comprehension.
After all, a limited world view with self as center is almost my definition of hell on earth. If we don’t need God then we surely need the idea of God, if only so that we have some avenue out of our myopic little perspective with all its petty machinations, jealousies, and other soap opera-like qualities.
It’s likely heresy, but if we dare describe God as, minimally, a benevolent dictator who has granted his subjects freewill, ought we not have more than a passing interest in the suffering of our fellow man? It seems only logical that God would wish it so, and part of my consternation here is that I don’t think that my monthly $7 check to Nature Conservancy and occasional support of public broadcasting is fulfilling the obligation.
The other part of my angst is that, even now, I’m not sure that I care, and if that’s not a prepaid ticket to hell, I don’t know what is (though I’m willing to hazard a guess that being a heroin dealer might garner such a prize). So my task becomes one of trying to move in a direction I do not want to despite an almost certainty that such a move is ultimately personally beneficial and right.
The finest day that I ever had
is when I learned to cry on command.
I love myself better than you.
I know it’s wrong, so what should I do?
—On A Plain, Nirvana
Who Do You Love?
The driving force behind almost all human behavior is perceived self-interest. I’m no different in that respect, though I’ve tried to adhere to the tenant of “a friend’s success is my success” in an effort to negate some of the negative effects of that characteristic. It has worked to shield me from some of the tempting “keeping up with the Joneses” attitudes that our materialist society perpetuates and has given me a genuine joy for my friends’ victories.
What it has not done, however, is give me any greater love for those who remain outside my circle of intimates and acquaintances. I have failings aplenty, but this is my greatest: The lives of strangers have to me only a theoretical value and while I’ll defend that value readily enough, it does not translate into much of an emotional attachment or understanding. And God help the stranger who makes an error of judgment in my eyes. I do not suffer unacquainted fools gladly. (The fools I’m acquainted with are generally granted more leeway. If you’re uncertain if that means you…hehe.)
Even more difficult for me is the notion of deserved consequences. I believe that, excepting perhaps those with mental illness, people should feel the consequences of their decisions and actions, good or bad. That’s kind of how the human animal learns, and I’ve long been of the opinion that negating or overly softening the impact of consequences does nobody any favors. In the negative sense, there are plenty of examples to be had in this regard, from what happens to society when laws stop being enforced to the anarchy in the classroom when a teacher attempts to “negotiate” rules and discipline. Does such a viewpoint harden my heart against those who disregard rule and law? Oh yeah. It creates in me a predisposition that a lot of people are jerks, regardless of circumstance. I don’t paint all of society with that broad a brush, but I confess that it’s a danger against which I need to maintain a constant vigilance.
Some might argue that this gnashing of teeth is much ado about nothing, but I can’t help but feel that I’ve committed a gross misjudgment in some respect or that I’ve not yet acquired the wisdom I need in order to properly conceptualize the world so that I can more readily achieve the platonic love for others I’m sure I should feel. It could also be that I’m trying to intellectualize a problem which requires an emotional answer.
It has also occurred to me that maybe it’s a currently unattainable goal. Wisdom typically has its own experiential requirements, after all, and it’s possible that at 31, I haven’t lived enough life to find the path to my goal, even if I know where it is that I want to go.
Um, That Would Be Me
I’ve always believed in my own ability and potential. I might conceal that belief in self-depreciating humor or in deflection of compliments, but I’m hardly ignorant of my talents or abilities (or, for that matter, my deficiencies.) Forgive my conceit, but I know how to do so many things well that sometimes I surprise myself. (Not that that’s terribly hard.)
So fear not for my ego when I say that I disappoint myself. It’s said that some are born to greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Neither probably applies to me, but I nonetheless sit around and wonder if I’m busy pissing greatness away. I know I’ve never been tested or pushed myself to the level of which I’m capable. Indeed, sometimes I wonder if my only real accomplishment is in convincing an otherwise sane and extraordinarily talented woman that I might make a reasonably fun life partner. (Not that I think she was wrong.)
I tend to rely on my intelligence as a crutch to avoid the “heavy lifting” of life. That I’ve succeeded as wildly as I have reveals, I think, the level of my cunning and the depth of my aversion to unpleasantness. Paradoxically, I’ve worked very hard to make all facets of my life “fun.” I’ve met with a high degree of success, and there is a whole lot about my life that I absolutely love (including my wife, my family, my friends, my financial situation, my house, my job, my web site…).
My concern is that I don’t believe that these are the circumstances which produce greatness of mind, body, or spirit. We grow by overcoming, not by complacency. Can one who finds himself in—or more accurately, has made for himself—a low-stress, high-reward life find the motivation to actualize his potential? Willpower has never been a forte of mine….
Worse though, I’m not terribly depressed by this, just ambivalent. I like so much of the day-to-day experience I’ve created that I don’t know that I could let go even if it were detrimental to my long-term growth. It reminds me of how the notion of salvation was de-constructed in The Matrix. What if the Messiah came, told you the truth, and the truth which he/she presented was definitely worse than the reality you were living? I think most people—like Cypher in the movie—would want to continue to live the comfortable lie and bag salvation altogether.
I don’t mean to cast this in religious terms. (But oops! Too late.) I’m not saying that my salvation is at stake (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it were; a person of my means and intelligence doing so little for the disenfranchised of his society and achieving so little of his potential.) I guess I feel like I may have built a beautiful, comfortable cage which I don’t want to leave, despite knowing that I have to if I’m ever going to be who I’m capable of being.
It was Victor Frankel, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, who said, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
What that means to me is not that you should expect me to hop up, join the Peace Corp., fly to Rwanda, and teach the natives how to make web sites. (www.genocide.com?) But I don’t think it’s unreasonable that I will make more of an effort within my circle of influence to say what I believe and to be who I am capable of being. (Probably much to your detriment, dear reader.) I’ve always thought that there’s a responsibility in life to be who you are and not hide that from the world. Whether this translates into a newfound or revived sense of appreciation for people at-large is a judgment that can only be made over time.
The “life challenges” portion of my psychological self-examination is probably best solved by either a reexamination of personal goals or a few shots of whiskey (or both together). I’m not sure that this self-doubt, limited though it may be, isn’t just a temporary cloud in an otherwise blue sky. I could wake up tomorrow, read this drivel, and think myself a self-involved egotist. No, wait, that was today.
Then I realize
My heart beats in time
with the rhythm of a love divine
stronger than the currents of doubt
that plague humankind.
I reach beyond into a new life.