And I really mean it this time.
“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
When I was seventeen, I wanted to split men open like oyster shells.
I was naive enough to believe that those emotionally unavailable, mysterious and brooding Adonises must be hiding radiant pearls inside all that protective casing. Shakespeare, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, said, “Why then the World’s mine Oyster, which I, with sword will open.”
Of course, I did not read this pearl of wisdom, if you will, until much later, but when I did, I considered whether my failure to crack open these mollusks of men had to do with the tools I’d been using. I’d been struggling to get at the goods with sweet words and loving kindness! A sword was what it took? Eureka! Apparently, I needed to bash at them with the flat of a heavy blade—or better yet, stab them.
Pearl diving aside, I wanted desperately to uncover the greatness that I so often believed existed in people. Was it a farce? Did my vision project something upon them that did not actually exist? How could this be so? After all, I was such an excellent judge of character (sarcasm). I was also a cynic (realist). And a romantic (visionary).
The two argued insufferably. How could one be a realist and romantic both, when romanticism intentionally requires one to put aside logic and hope for the best when clearly, hoping for the best in the past brought nothing but more suffering? (“Well, garsh . . .” says the romantic. “No wonder, with an attitude like that.”)
It was just that I was confused by the way everyone played small. I thought it was my duty to draw out the greatness of others. Why should we not want to show how brilliant and beautiful we are? After all, if I think I’m great, and I think you’re great, doesn’t my cognizance of your greatness make you even greater? We are exponentially escalating greatness by association! Wait. What? You don’t think I’m great? Sigh.
By age 22, I began to doubt that the beauty I saw within others (or myself) actually existed. The cynic was winning. Maybe it boiled down to the fact that I got bored without a challenge—winding my way through complicated mazes filled with booby traps and land mines, climbing mountains spewing noxious fumes just to plant my flag on a peak showing the first signs of impending eruption. It’s a lot of hard work, trying to conquer other people. (But hey, progressive imperialism ain’t easy!)
I’ve got it! I’m great, but maybe you aren’t. (Me at 26)
I do not read minds (I’m retired), so people have to tell me what they want. I refuse to read between the lines, and it is not so much due to the futility of the task (all that room for making an ass of one’s self) as it is to my exhaustion with people who do not know how to speak. It’s understandable at 16 and even forgivable at 20, but later it is expected that one would have learned the art of introspection, inner vision, then expression, and that the addition of one and one does not equal nothing.
“Where is your passion?!” I’d demand to know. “What is that thing you must have or you will shrivel up and die like lilies without water? If you don’t know, why don’t you know? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so afraid? Ridiculous chickenshit! Don’t just stand there. Do something! And no, dammit, don’t say I’m too intense. The problem is that you are too ordinary.”
All right, maybe I was a little intense. (Me at 30)
All those things I said before, about not being a mind reader and refusing to dig around in mud…well, I really mean it this time. I see the mud on that thing, and I swear I love that mud. I’m not going to try to scrape it off or anything. It’s lovely! It’s earthy. It’s reality! I’ve given up on pearls. I’m fine with barnacles. I’m perfectly Zen about everything. I’ll take “Slimy Stuff Growing on Rocks” for $1,000, Mr. Trebeck.
(This is more bullshit. There’s no way I can see that mud and not scrape at it—softly, though, this time. Shhh…so, like, you won’t even notice.)
Never mind all that noise. (Me at 36)
Fuck it. It’s not coming off. You’re covered in some kind of crap I can’t even identify. You know what, though? I’m not even trying to. Because there’s no point. Not in scraping you off (impossible task), and not in pretending whatever crap you’re covered in is actually pretty crap. It’s there. It’s gruesome business. Earthy and lovely, sure—in the way that sludge is lovely—and horrible. You stink. But the real issue here is that all that crap on you is the same crap that is on me.
Waking up to that really puts things in perspective. It makes me realize I’ve spent twenty years trying to change things I can’t ever change. So okay, I’m not trying to change you. It’s not because I like you just the way you are (I probably don’t). It’s not because I feel all of this universal love (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t). And it’s not because I’ve graciously accepted all of your weathered bits (I mean, I’m working on it, but quite frankly, sometimes your weathered bits suck).
I’m not trying to change you because holy shit, did you happen to notice what I look like?! That’s what this is all about. All that tapping I was doing before, pearl diving and prying things open, scraping, and so on and so forth—well, what do you know. Turns out, I’m in worse shape than you! Prying at my own parts suddenly seems pretty important. You might even say it’s absolutely imperative.
At some point, I’ll crack open—and whatever is in there, it’s bound to be enlightening. And to all those oysters, I thank you for showing me how to get in to myself. Once I’ve dug around a bit, I have a feeling I’ll find all the pearls I need. Then, if you want to stay closed, or be open, or have a good roll ’round in the sludge, guess what?
It’s all good.
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Assistant Editor: Andrea Charpentier/Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photos: Elephant Archives, Flickr