Friday, October 29, 2010

What Saves A

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it."

- Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars

* * *

It is a teetering thing, this living. The impulse to overcome adversity matched, point for point, by the impulse to surrender. What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it.

* * *

I am sore, heart-sore and bone tired.

Last night I attended a meeting of some very good and kind people who were volunteering their time to be part of mentoring program for kids in middle and high school. I was there to do the same with the crucial difference that I did not know how I could keep this commitment, and if I failed the fallout would include a setback, a disappointment, a further proof of life's unreliability to my mentee. I knew all this and had the phone in my hand to back out.

I had problems enough of my own and could hardly justify including another in my life. My heart raced. I was irritable, uncertain as to what to do and somehow I decided to get in the car and go.

As I said, these were good and kind people - generous and willing to serve - and I sat among them like a spy, eavesdropping on their willingness to set aside their troubles, their constraints and offer something of themselves. It wasn't because they knew their gifts to be so wonderful, but because they felt they had something to give and that would be enough.

I listened. I asked questions. My heart still raced and I wanted for all the world to leave that room, take back my offer to help, run back home and pace the floors like a caged animal and simply worry myself to distraction. Every bit of my conscious mind wanted to leave, knew it was wrong for me to stay, and yet I stayed, and yet I stayed.

* * *

In Wind, Sand and Stars, Saint Exupéry tells a story of one Guillaumet, an aviator who crashed in the Andes in the 1930's and how he survived a week in the ice and snow and returned to his comrades, his family.  He writes:

Guillaumet's courage is in the main a product of his honesty. But even this is not his fundamental quality. His moral greatness consists in his sense of responsibility. He knew that he was responsible for himself, for the mails, for the fulfillment of the hopes of his comrades. He was holding in his hands their sorrow and their joy. He was responsible for that new element which the living were constructing and in which he was a participant. Responsible, in as much as his work contributed to it, for the fate of these men.

Guillaumet was one among those bold and generous men who had taken upon themselves the task of spreading their foliage over bold and generous horizons. To be a man is, precisely, to be responsible. It is to feel shame at the sight of what seems an unmerited misery. It is to take pride in a victory won by one's comrades. It is to feel, when setting one's stone, that one is contributing to the building of the world.

* * *

They say that teachers are often taught by their students, an exchange occurs that is not in the lesson plan, but one that happens when the teacher is open to it. Last night I doubted to the very core of my being that I had anything to offer to those good and kind people, to the good and kind program they'd worked on, to the young person I was to help and yet I stayed. My conscious mind - so filled with doubt and worry - was silenced long enough by a deeper current that I stayed. I took a step. Then another and was rewarded with the gift of responsibility, of a new tie to bind me to my work. Without having met my student, my mentee, I have already been taught by them.

You want to unfuck your life? Take a step, especially when you think you can't, and then take another.


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