Thursday, May 22, 2003

Intellectually, I feel that in most ways, I raised myself. My father and mother taught me many of the basic things that human beings have to master, of course, before I ever began to contemplate the mysteries of the universe, or even before I ever considered trying to tie my own shoes. But on the whole, I taught myself. I taught myself how to read and do basic math, and I’m singularly responsible for the way that I excelled in the former and failed miserably in the latter. While I’m certain that my elementary school would claim credit for having taught me those things, I had taught myself both skills before I ever got stuck in a classroom. And had I not learned them first, I rather doubt that I ever would have learned them. I used the resources that school brought me: libraries, textbooks, required assignments. But I could count on one hand the things that a teacher ever really taught me. That’s not entirely to their discredit; much of the discredit lies with me, and my stubbornness regarding being taught anything partially. I have always wanted to know why, and no teacher can teach why. They can point, but they can’t shove the absolute reality into your head, and I wouldn’t have anything except the absolute reality. And no public school teacher has the time to spend with one student who insists on knowing; there are twenty-four other kids in their class who don’t insist, and who have to be forced and the majority’s needs outweigh the needs of the one student.

But I really do feel that on the whole, particularly intellectually, I raised myself. I’ve freelanced for so long that it’s actually difficult for me to discuss big ideas with other people. Intelligent people are often tangibly alone. I’ve read so many of the great books, just because I thought that I should familiarize myself with them. And yet there are so many great books that I haven’t read yet, and will probably never read. And the differences in what I’ve read from what another intellectual has read are huge. Those differences keep us from having a common language, or common ideas or even common emotions.

I raised myself on strange books. I started with the great thinkers that most folks only discover later in life. I read Nietzsche at fourteen, and Sartre at fifteen, and Camus and that sort all around the same time. It wasn’t until I was eighteen and nineteen that I started to take a thinker like G.K. Chesterton seriously. As such, I’ve found that my opinions are always the unpopular opinions. By the time my peers in college were discovering Nietzsche, I’d already tired of him. By the time they’d gotten tired of a proper theist like C.S. Lewis, I was only just beginning to think that he might possibly have a point. A lack of commonality is difficult for intellectuals. We’re hardly ever secure enough to be truly alone; and yet, if we find ourselves on the side of the majority, we’re nervous because we self-righteously consider the masses ignorant.

Philosophy and Theology have always been central issues for me. Even as I tired of Politics, and the problems of this world, my questions about other worlds increased. And so, while I could list all of the amendments to the constitution and their approximate addition dates, when I was fourteen, and still, I had no clue what the ten commandments were, by the time I was eighteen, I couldn’t list half of amendments, much less their addition dates, but I had taught myself entire lists of psalms and knew them by heart. I was backward of course; most people are raised with religion, and become increasingly secular until they have children of their own. I was raised secularly, and became interested in religion. Though, there’s no news yet on what I’ll do when I have children of my own.

In any case, what I’m building up to, is how profoundly uncool I know I am. At twenty, as an intellectual, I should be nihilistic and bored. But I’ve already been there, and I’ve discarded such philosophies. Instead I find myself profoundly optimistic, and happy, and brimming with questions that I feel may actually have answers. It’s a difficult thing for anyone else to understand I think. When you’re twelve and intelligent, the world has a meaning; when you’re twenty and intelligent, you realize how naïve you were when you were twelve; so how is it that I could be intelligent, and twenty, and still naively cling to a life with meaning?

I don’t know. I’m completely uncool. And I’m okay with it. I’m not ashamed of being happy. I’m no longer sick over not knowing everything (admittedly, I still get a little sick sometimes because I don’t know, but it’s vastly decreased). The thinkers that I respect now, no longer discredit human life. I can’t respect a thinker who takes that notion seriously. The thinkers I love are the ones who aren’t so absorbed in mindless empiricism. That’s right, mindless empiricism. It sounds like a contradiction in terms to the in-crowd, but I find nothing so reasonable about cold facts. I like the thinkers who see life as beautiful, and human lives as beautiful, and who don’t limit their minds to the sickeningly finite senses that they can easily process.

It’s easy to see someone like me as hiding from the world, but I think the truth is just the opposite. I’ve been obsessed for years with smashing the world into little finite bits that I could file in my brain. I wanted to be big bigger than reality; I wanted to control it and nail it down. I was afraid of the world because the notion that I couldn’t understand absolutely everything meant that I was powerless; I warred against the world, I hid from it. And now I’ve given myself over. I resign myself to a position of inferiority; perhaps I can’t know everything, and perhaps I am powerless. Perhaps this finite human being can’t understand an infinite universe; and perhaps this unknowledgeable twit can venture the opinion that world is infinite, without overly worrying about proving it. That’s not hiding. It’s not denying what can be seen. It’s accepting that there are things which can’t yet be seen.

Mysteries are the salvation of man from his own self-righteousness and arrogance. It’s why Jesus always spoke in parables; they’re not supposed to be easy to understand. It’s why Job never really got his answer from God, even when God answered him. It’s why the Buddha told people to wake themselves up; why he told them to look where he was pointing, and to stop focusing on his damn finger all of the time instead. I’ll take a mystery over a fact any day. I believe in miracles; and not only because I’ve seen them, but paradoxically, also because I haven’t.

What’s so awful about hope? What’s so terrible about being okay with who you are? What’s so shameful about seeing yourself as a part of the universe, rather than the god ruling over it? At fourteen I could have told you, but the answer escapes me now. And I’m happier for it, and healthier for it. And it hasn’t made me fall into a stupid contentment like I had feared; quite the opposite, it liberated me from the contentment that I suffered from seeing myself as the ultimate arbitrator.

I don’t suspect that I can handle the truth; and somehow that fundamental truth, I think, has set me free.