Friday, March 14, 2014

An Authentic Life

It occurs to me that what I really want from life, and have always wanted, is something we might call authenticity.  I want to find myself in circumstances where I have a useful outlet for the impulses I carry inside.  I want a field to labor in.  I want friends with whom (for whom, in whom) I can make a positive difference in the world.  I want to belong somewhere.

The hardest thing for me to deal with as I struggle to find a job, a church, etc., is the recurring realization that there are many places I exist but few where I really belong.  I am a transient, a vagrant, a mercenary, a useful idiot (whom the real community dismisses with a smirk or a smile when his contract is up).  I want to be something more.  I don't want riches or honor.  I am willing and able to make sacrifices to belong.  But I cannot sacrifice my commitment to doing good (as I see it) and avoiding evil (as I see it).  I cannot look away from evil I see myself doing and pretend that it is somehow good, unless I see clearly how the pretence is justified.

As I look for somewhere to belong in the world, I run across many other people with different ideas of what I should be, how I should belong (to them or some gang like theirs).  To some I look like a good recruit (though they don't always recruit me); to others I look like shit.  I understand.  I don't expect everyone to like or want me.  I see my own limitations clearly all the time, as I attempt to do things and find myself incapable of carrying through as I thought to: this does not have to be bad; some of my greatest achievements have occurred as unexpected outcomes from failure.  The hardest thing for me to deal with is unremitting failure, with no immediate positive pay-offs in sight.  This is particularly hard when I see how I might be very close to fulfilling someone's need--so close to belonging in some gang where I might make a positive difference--but circumstances mean that I cannot carry through on that promise, that it remains a dead end rather than a live opportunity.

I do not resent the success of other people.  I do not think that life owes me anything for happening to exist as I do.  Mine is and has been a very privileged and blessed existence, I judge, and perhaps it is my turn to suffer for that, to pay a little back for all the good things I have been given in the past--not because I was deserving of them, but because Nature and the people around me were very kind and I was not unappreciative (of that kindness).  I do feel sorry for my dependents, the people who rely on me to help them stay alive and find happiness on the way (we hope).  I wish I could provide for them better than I do (not that I would like to be materially richer necessarily; what I would like would be to give them some stability, a place to grow up without the constant threat of unnecessary change that currently looms over them).

I see more clearly now why the scholar's life is historically a solitary one (locked in an empty garret somewhere, reading, writing, living on pennies, finding friends in the library without getting to close to anyone).  It is not really secure (as few lives are in this world).  Taking dependents is something strong people do, and the young scholar is not strong (usually, typically--and I am quite typical in this regard).  The honest pursuit of truth is not one that lends itself well to wealth-production; even in academia, what gangs love most is a smooth lie.  Smooth lies get you tenure where complicated truths get you rated and written off (as an ignoramus, which I admit that I am: I have struggled to correct this flaw my entire life, only to realize at last that it is incorrigible).  If only I could find the right gang, a gang that might have some use for my ignorance.  If I were a better man, I might be able to say with Oscar Wilde, "I have nothing to declare but my genius."  Alas, instead I find myself echoing that poor fool Socrates: "I have nothing to declare but my ignorance."  And I am not ready to drink hemlock.  What an idiot I am!  

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