If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
- Sarah McLachlan, "Answer"
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The only ones who can promise to not break or bend are those who have already been broken - not like a horse, but like glass dropped from a great height.
* * *
Here's the news: it takes your whole life to figure out what your whole life was about. The answers we come up with along the way (money, marriage, kids, work, etc.) are provisional, the best we can do with the information at hand. We fuck ourselves by assuming these answers are all we've got. Lots of bad juju gets stitched into our souls when the money runs out, or the love fades, or the kids leave or the work turns out to have been a straw man. It takes a lifetime to live and, for better or worse, you won't be here to judge the results. No, that's for others to suss out. What you have right now, right there in your hand, in your head, in the heart that still splashes inside your chest, what you've always had is this one moment to breathe, to think, to act, say and do as you will.
And what you think, act, say and do is born out of two things: your experience and your desire. You need both in order to unfuck yourself. Too much emphasis on one or the other will keep you screwed. Each is the tonic and cure for the other; each has something to offer you, your life; each, when lived on the sleeve, becomes the arc and direction of your life.
But we get hurt, don't we? We get hurt and we get hard - in our hearts, in our heads. Our experience teaches caution, fear, doubt and when this happens our desires stay close to our wounds: my father was a child of the Depression and sought out work that would always be needed and so became an embalmer; an old college friend only wanted quiet in his life after a rugged childhood and so took on work far below his ability in order to find the anonymity he craved. I cannot say how well served these two were by their choices, but their experiences taught them not to hope for too much, to desire more. Reach out for something and you could fall a long way. They'd both seen it, both lived it.
* * *
And yet, this seems to me to be an abdication of the privilege each of us has in drawing breath. There is no doubt that life can be a cruel master, but if that is all we choose to see then the picture remains incomplete. Desire, the spark of genius, the lust for another breath, another lover, another chance is our way out and up, up from the floor of our hard experience, up from fear and into the marrow of our lives.
The lessons of experience (the past) are not here to limit you, but rather to test your desire, your willingness to submit to the demands of your desire and so overcome every failing, every mistake, every miscue, every circumstance that limited your ability to express your highest desires.
And what are those desires?
Here's my answer: love beyond the self, love for another, for a cause greater than yourself. When the parochial, provisional desires lead you to unhappiness, when their promises shatter (as they must) like glass dropped from a great height, you are then free to love beyond your self. If it takes your whole life it will be worth it. Love makes you timeless. The vicissitudes of time are no more than falling leaves.
Viktor Frankl wrote: "A thought transfixed me: for the
first time in my life l saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets,
proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to
which man can aspire. Then I grasped
the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and
belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left
in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation
of his beloved. In a position of utter
desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only
achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an
honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the
image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the
meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite
* * *
'Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
When the stars have all burned out
You'll still be burning so bright
* * *