Sunday, July 27, 2014

If Man Is

If man is to come up to his full measure, he must become conscious of his infinite capacity for carrying himself further still; he must realize the duties it involves, and he must feel its intoxicating wonder. He must abandon all the illusions of narrow individualism and extend himself, intellectually and emotionally, to the dimensions of the universe: and this even though, his mind reeling at the prospect of his new greatness, he should think that he is already in possession of the divine, is God himself, or is himself the artisan of Godhead.

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Writing in Time of War

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Keep this in mind: de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, wrote those words in a trench while serving as a stretcher-bearer in WWI. 

It helps with the perspective.

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There is no mistaking the power each of us holds to choose how we will answer the questions life puts before us. You are the locus of all the meaning and purpose and love that you have or don't have in your days. I believe in the individual. I believe we are more powerful than we allow, kinder than we believe and can, as solitary beings, alter the arc of the lives around us by our example. If you have read any of what I leave here, then you know this is my first foot foward.

But there is more.

If you are fucked and stuck and trapped by fear or doubt or loss or longing or a disconnect from the life you thought you'd have and the one you actually have, the most important thing I can tell you is you have the ability to change your response to those circumstances by being responsible for the things you think, say and do. You may never become rich, your circumstances may not change, but you will be changed and that makes all the difference in how you bear your days.

But there is more.

Listen, Borges taught that if you could name one thing - a deer, a notebook, a coffee cup, a pen - it also implied its opposite, its obverse, which was everything else that was not the deer, the notebook, the cup, the pen. In short, one thing implied many things; it suggested, in its uniqueness, its solitariness, the rest of all creation: the universe. I always loved that. It's a rhetorical flourish that nonetheless speaks a great truth: you are not here alone - everything is connected. de Chardin's idea is the same: the individual's capacity for growth and change is infinite and so stretches out to include the universe.

But this is possible only when you cast off the narrowness of your pain, the narrowness of your desire and extend your sense of self outward, expanding your reach and loving more than what is close to you, dear to you, familiar and seeing in others the same struggle for meaning and how poorly we can respond to our circumstances. Do this, get to this place where what is unique inside you is found in others who are wresting with the same immutable truth (we all die, now how are we to live) and the wonderment that attends that realization will blow your head clean off.

But there is more.

We are multitudes made up of individuals. Masses, populations, the welter of our species is overwhelming, but we live out our lives individually. This tension between the multitude and the individual becomes a pressure point for conformity, for the application of law, for order to be hewed into the rock of the chaos that surrounds us. It is often what I rail against here. But there is another step to take, something de Chardin intimates: when you unfuck what's been fucked in you, when you choose to respond to your circumstance with the freedom and responsibility of a mind alive to the light of day you are transformed into a catalyst for all subsequent changes, subsequent transformations of those whose lives you intersect. And here is where it becomes sublime: if Borges is right (and he is) that means you, my best beloved, are the hinge of creation, of all that follows, of what can yet be. From one, many, and that one is you.

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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest. He volunteered to be a stretcher-bearer in WWI. He was an evolutionary scientist and is credited with discovering Peking Man. His church isolated him and refused to allow many of his writings to be published. He was one man with all of one man's attendant flaws and greatness. He extended our collective reach, not because of his faith in Christ, but because of how he lived his life: engaged up to his ears. You needn't be a priest or scientist or war hero to extend our reach. But you do have to be awake to the possibility of what you, and only you, with your attendant flaws and greatness, can bring.

Now go. You have shit to do.

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