Saturday, November 16, 2002

I feel I’m in a time of transition. Certain old connections are fading away. Certain others are proving stronger than I had believed. I’m finding myself sorry for a lot of things I’ve done that I had not recognized as being wrong. And I’m finding myself eager to start on a path I’ve largely left untried.

Human beings have to take care of each other. I’ve never gone out of my way to take care of other people. I wanted attention for me. I didn’t stop to think that other people might need attention from me. I was never purposely a bad friend to anyone. I gave support when I thought of it. I did what I thought was right at the time. But looking back, I really never did say the right things. I thought it better to criticize and correct than simply empathize, which is probably what was always more needed.

I don’t take correction well myself. I don’t like to be told I’m wrong. No one does. But some people are less insistent on their justifications than me. I know it’s a fault that I can’t take any one else’s criticism. I come from a long line of people who can’t stand authority. I come from a long line of people who really don’t take responsibility for themselves. I can see that in them; I can’t see it in me except in retrospect. I can tell you what I did was selfish once I’m emotionally removed from the event. But I’m always of the belief that I’m a good person, trying to do good things, whenever I do anything at all.

Today I’m struggling with guilt and blame and human limitation. I’ve always used as a defense the principle that you shouldn’t cast any stones until you have a clear conscience yourself. As a prosecutor I embrace part of that principle. I do really feel sorry for people sometimes, and I do try to understand why they do what they do, and I try to forgive. But I think it’s sometimes necessary to unequivocally state that certain things are wrong. Maybe that’s the difference. I’ve heard it said that you should love the sinner and hate the sin. But behavior, especially persistent habitual behavior, is a large part of who a person is. How can you love someone who continually engages in behaviors and attitudes you despise?

Thomas Merton wrote some beautiful prose on love in No Man is an Island. He wrote about what it means to love other people and yourself. It was from him that I learned, or at least really understood, the necessity of not always letting people have their way. Sometimes loving someone means saying no. Because, though it’s easier to grant approval and gain immediate affection in return, a healthy love requires that we act not out of a desire to receive affection, but rather instead, an earnest desire to see the best interest of the beloved served. What I failed to internalize was the necessity of empathy in the equation. It is sometimes right to say no. It is never right to say no and refuse to feel the passion behind the request. Hell is the soul denied its most earnest desire for all eternity. A sliver of that ultimate suffering pierces the skin each time even the smallest desires are denied upon Earth.

Today, I resolve to feel more. I will suffer not only when I am denied my own prerogative, but also when the desires of those around me are denied. I will grieve when the negative consequences of actions come, and not only when those negative consequences are undeserved. Even when I feel the welter of a “serves you right” mentality creeping into my consciousness, I will suspend judgment at least long enough to share in the suffering of my brethren. I resolve to not only suffer along with others, but also with them. And also to rejoice with them when desires are fulfilled because not everything in life is denial and pain. And joy is by no means a lesser calling than suffering.

I remember when I was still a very little girl, my mother described me as a loner. And in many respects she was right. I have always felt alone, as if no one really cared about me. And in some respects, I was alone. Though there were always people in my life who loved me, I have always been profoundly difficult to relate to or understand. And I've always interpreted that lack of understanding as a lack of community feeling. But I have never really been alone because, despite our occasional indulgence in the dark night of the soul, mankind is never really alone. No man is an island. Not even I am an island. And I happily find for the first time, that much of my solitude has been somewhat unconsciously self-imposed. I am not so much pariah as I am hermit. And the answer to my loneliness is not to seek out people who will love me, but rather to seek out people to love.

I’ve been fighting a secret battle against my pride for a long time. It’s not one I’ll give up, or win, any time soon. Today I recommit myself to that battle. For the last two years, I’ve been indulging more and battling less. But I’m about to change my strategy and focus. I’m going to work on becoming a genuinely better person, and not just a more overtly successful person. This time I won’t be in it alone because I’m going to share my struggle with others, and help to bear the burden of their struggle as well. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Implicit in this command is the understanding that we can only love others once we have begun to love ourselves. Paradoxically, it’s also true that in order to really love ourselves, we must also have begun to truly love others. I recommit myself to the struggle of real love, of real humility. Today, I remind myself that I have a will to live; a philosophical will that is and not only just a biological will. I will to live because I love, and I love because I am alive.