Sunday, June 08, 2003

This is the first basically quiet moment I’ve had in a while. I’m not in a rush. I will be soon, but I’m not now. I don’t have anywhere to be. I don’t having anything pressing to do hanging over my head. There aren’t any people around cluttering up my thoughts. In the next hour I will be rushed, with lots to do, and surrounded by people. But for the moment, I’m really quite free.

There’s nothing I crave like detachment.

I’ve been uncharacteristically emotional lately. I’ve been downright sentimental over things that I haven’t concerned myself with in a long time. I can’t explain the emotions really. It’s as if all of my bottled up emotions, that I’ve kept basically quiet about for a decade, have found a way out. Though it’s the proper and obvious metaphor, I won’t say that any leaks have been sprung. It seems a crass way of putting it, and I refuse to be any crasser than I have to be right now.

My life is about to change so drastically that I can’t even begin to contemplate it. Some of the changes, I’ve initiated myself. Going to Europe will change me. I know it will. And I’m willing to accept the responsibility for it because I chose to go. But the much more pressing and overarching changes will come from things I have no control over whatsoever. I don’t care to detail what I foresee here. If it comes about, it will, and I don’t want to start creating self-fulfilling prophecies of woe.

I’ve always felt that an individual is only liable for their situation in a limited way. Life happens to people, with all of the great and horrible random events that that entails. And while a person isn’t at all responsible for the random events that hit them, they are responsible for their own reactions to those events. They are, to an extent, even responsible for life as it hits them, insofar as their reactions determine their situations. But individuals have limited liability and limited glory.

When I was young, I counted myself an extraordinarily unlucky person. And now I consider myself quite a lucky person. I do believe in a luck of sorts, anti-rationalistic as it certainly is. It isn’t like karma. I don’t deserve what happens to me, for good or ill. And it doesn’t preclude my own free-will. I have a will that determines my reactions to what happens to me. I am not only the product of some random chain of events. I am a semi-rational response, and a challenge, to a semi-rational world.

To clarify that last point, what I mean is that, however much I’ve been influenced by the world around me, I’ve influenced the world just as much. Though my death would be, to a shallow glance at least, utterly inconsequential on a universal scheme, in actuality it would earth-shattering. All births and deaths are earth-shattering.

For me, reading the obituaries has always been something that I can compare only to a religious experience, akin to adoring the Eucharist. It was true for me even before I really understood the meaning behind my own emotion. Human lives, when they begin and when they end, are not just infinitesimal marks on the pages of time. To even begin to consider the significance of the individual is near-ridiculous.

Human lives have often been summed up in terms of milestones, or rites of passage. To use my own experience somewhat, it would be rather like saying that a child is born and brought into the Church and the Kingdom of God through baptism. He attends school, both secular and religious. He is confirmed and is spiritually considered an adult, an event coinciding with his actual physical maturation process. As a young adult, the man masters the tools which enable his survival. Religiously, he learns the meaning of purity and sinfulness, how to fight off spiritual temptation, how to govern his life around morality. Secularly, he learns how to work, how to exist socially, how to take after himself so he can gain and maintain an advantageous position. The man is married eventually and procreates, guiding his children and then grandchildren through a similar process. Eventually he dies, and is buried, and is irrelevant until Judgment Day.

But human lives are so much more than that. When a child is born, he profoundly changes the universe, by the brute force which is his existence. On an obvious level, his family is changed. But the truth is that the entire family of man is changed. Because, as John Donne wrote it, “No man is an island.” A child influences not only his parents, but as he grows, also his peers. When he becomes a man, he defines his morality and lives by it, or does not. This isn’t insignificant; it determines all of his actions toward God, toward man, toward the very earth he lives on. He learns to work, and not only to exist with others, but also to support others. He marries, and learns what it means to live for another human being, a process immensely intensified by the birth of his children. Eventually he dies and is buried. But he isn’t irrelevant. The whole of a man’s life is relevance, and there are no idle moves. The death of a man can be described so many ways: as the pinnacle of his work; as his rest, and as his descendants call to labor; as the return to the ground from which he came; as the ascendancy of his offspring.

Every moment is potential. Not only for ultimate goodness and ultimate evil, but often for both at the same time. We have been told that if a butterfly flaps it wings, it can bring up pollen from the ground, causing an elephant to sneeze, change the currents of the air, eventually resulting in the rise of a hurricane which will destroy entire human settlements. Such a small action with such immense meaning, and we can’t understand all of it, or even very much of it. To imagine the human dramas involved is intriguing. We imagine the small child, who loses her parents to the storm, who grows up embittered, turns to drugs, who destroys herself for the sake of a butterfly, flapping its wings. We imagine the young man terrified, and profoundly thankful to God for his survival, who in a flash of zealotry sparks a revolution, as did Luther, and who changes the whole of human history in a way which is very and obviously tangible. We think of the people who die; of the deeds they never did, of the children they never bore, of the contributions they never contributed, and of the taxes they never taxed. Every moment is unfathomably powerful. Every action is unfathomably important. Every human life is full of such infinite, unfathomable potential, that it’s utterly earth-shattering.

All births and deaths are earth-shattering. All thoughts and actions are earth-shattering. Human beings are as gods and devils; even in their infancy, even in their pre-infancy. Every person we see, even the most drab and uninteresting, as C.S. Lewis put it, “may one be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

The changes in my life are very small, when considered by anyone but me. But they’re of infinite importance. I am considered very small, when considered by anyone but me. But I am of infinite importance. I’m not sure whether I should be comforted or terrified by the thoughts I’m thinking today. The burden of responsibility for my own actions tears at my conscience, even though the changes haven’t come yet. The fear of the unknown makes my stomach churn and my muscles tighten. Life is so worrisome that it makes my chest ache, and my teeth clench. And yet, I’m not utterly bowed to despair, as yet. I am a hopeful person. This universe is filled with unknowns, and I do not yet see the narrative the humanity is weaving. I do not know, and I can not know, and my control is only very minimal, and only over myself. And though that means that I could be carelessly cast aside at any time, I do not believe that I will be. And somehow, I think I might be okay even if I was. Though I am drab and uninteresting, I am also a monster so awful that I should only be met in nightmares, and I shine with a light so bright that it almost cries to be worshipped. I am these things not only someday, but now.

There’s nothing I crave like detachment. And there’s nothing which comes to me, or any human being, quite so foreignly.