Monday, October 24, 2016

One Paradox However

One paradox, however, must be accepted and this is that it is necessary to continually attempt the seemingly impossible.

- Hermann Hesse, Journey to the East

* * *

I will tell you this: the impossible exists solely to draw you into your name.

* * *

Most people operate under the assumption that life will recognize and reward their effort: straight A's, cum laude, staying late, above and beyond, the extra mile, the Rosary prayed, the candles lit, the donation made. And it is true enough that these things tend to be traded for certain comforts - both material and spiritual. But, I'll argue it is none of that, but is, instead, a sort of bribe, a pre-emptive payment to a protection racket. Those good things, when understood as a metaphysical quid pro quo, lose all their goodness and leave you unarmed, unprepared for the real task in front of you: to attempt the seemingly impossible.

Job was a good man who prayed the right prayers, lived according to the rules and his life was destroyed on a whim by a capricious god to prove a point. His fortune was lost. His children were killed. He reputation covered in ash. When he dared to complain he was met with the question: did you make Leviathan? When he begged forgiveness for daring to cry out in his pain his fortune was restored, new children were given to him and his happiness and equilibrium were re-established. It is an odd and affecting story, but Job did nothing to earn his loss or his restoration. He was a spectator to his life.

Did you make Leviathan?

No. I've made something more remarkable. I've made my way year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought.

* * *

Each has the tasks set before them. Each set of tasks is utterly unique to the life that confronts them. Each must answer or run away as the case may be. Each is solely responsible for the answer they give or withhold. None of this touches on the impossible. It is only a statement of existential fact: you exist and so you must respond to the call of that existence - whatever it may be. The impossible is woven into your life, whether you acknowledge it or wish it there. The impossible is the obstacle before you. It has no name save for the one you give it: health, violence, economics, psyche, emotion, faith, etc. It can be understood as a tormentor. It can also be seen as a doorway. What it is not is absolute, for what was impossible changes by your response to it. Things expand and contract according to its contact with you. And where you set out for is never where you land.

What to do?

Attempt the seemingly impossible again and again.

It is a false assumption to believe that overcoming an obstacle removes all obstacles - or that you'd want them removed anyway. Certainly, violence, poverty, illness are not things to want to relive, relitigate. But what we want and what we get are different things and if your life presents you with these hardships then that is what your life will be spent answering. What is just or fair has little to do with it. By insisting that life comport itself to an ideal state you are robbed of the experience of attempting the seemingly impossible. It is there, in those attempts, year by year, month by month, day by day, though by thought, that you wind up becoming who you are. And by doing so you alter, by degrees, what is possible/impossible for others. The personal, the private, the unique, the individual is transformed into something public, social, universal.

We are as waves. One after the other altering the direction and flow of the next, being altered by them in turn and so move on to the next and the next and the next.

The idea that you can pay your way out of confronting trial by praying just so, and achieving these grades, and following the rules laid down by long habit is doomed to upend you when you come to recognize the task that awaits. Yet, those prayers, those grades and even those rules are what you will have at hand to work with. You may need to fashion other tools, but if you have lived so, then these will be your first choice as they are at hand. Again, it doesn't matter where you begin, or what tools you have at the start, or what the nature of the impossible is for you. It only matters in its specifics: this task and not that task. Everything depends on your willingness to engage it, to try. No one gets it right, but we're all supposed to try.

* * *

One more thing: this in no way suggests that anything we do is futile. Quite the opposite. The impossible is slayed and re-defined with every step you take. Every step. Every thought. Every gesture. Everything. Nothing is wasted. It is wildly efficient for as long as you draw breath you hold within you the possibility of overcoming the obstacle before you. Not a final obstacle - there is no such thing, just the one before you. It adds ballast to the wave, roots it deep below the surface where the true tides are made, where distant ocean engines run their course: informing each crest and trough on the surface of the water.

You are the impossible made manifest, my love. It is only right that you extend such miracles regardless of your trial.

* * *

I wish you well.


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