I found an essay called “The Body and The Earth” by Wendell Berry in The Unsettling of America published in 1977. It is an extremely articulate and broad analysis of that “spherical network” that moves fluidly from agriculture, to Shakespeare and suicide, to sexual differences and divisions, and more. Here is an excerpt from the beginning which describes the mythic human dilemma:
“Until modern times, we focused a great deal of the best of our thought upon such rituals of return to the human condition. “Seeking enlightenment or the Promised Land or the way home, a man would go or be forced to go into the wilderness, measure himself against the Creation, recognize finally his true place within it, and thus be saved both from pride and from despair.
“Seeing himself as a tiny member of a world he cannot comprehend or master or in any final sense possess, he cannot possibly think of himself as a god.
“And by the same token, since he shares in, depends upon, and is graced by all of which he is a part, neither can he become a fiend; he cannot descend into the final despair of destructiveness.
“Returning from the wilderness, he becomes a restorer of order, a preserver. He sees the truth, recognizes his true heir, honors his forebears and his heritage, and gives his blessing to his successors. He embodies the passing of human time, living and dying within the human limits of grief and joy.”
Human limits. Humility. Our struggles, our desires, our wants, our hopes and feelings of elation are not the stuff to tilt the planet. There is a rightness outside of our sphere. I like to remember that perspective each time I encounter the “world wide web” of hype and OMG! and products and extracting resources and cruelty and pettiness.
Peace on earth, Priscilla
Possessing a human brain is no picnic. The cumbersome chunk of gray matter is quite the dictator. It wants to know: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? It shines the light in our eyes, makes us squint and squirm until we come up with an answer. And “I don’t know” won’t appease its inquisition. Somewhere in our distant evolutionary history, this dictatorship must have presented some advantage to survival. Possibly it pressed us to a more efficient way to find food or use tools or attract a desirable mate. When the interrogation continues after it has served its immediate purpose, it becomes rather annoying and can create anxiety, frustration, torment and suffering. Think of a 4-year-old asking “Why?” to every explanation offered. It never ends. When you shout back, “I DON’T KNOW!” do you feel you’ve failed and slink off to ponder your existence? (For a good example of this “insane deconstruction” peppered with ‘adult language’, check out comedian Louis C.K. in this clip.)
Humor aside, the suffering is universal. We have all lived the anguish of a mystery at some point. As I write this, I am thinking of all the people whose loved ones disappeared on the Malaysian jet that has been missing for 11 days. Unanswered and unanswerable questions must plague them. The few photos of their grief that I’ve seen are hard to bear. Add to that circle connected to those 239 people all of the families of military personnel MIA throughout history, all of the families of travelers to foreign countries in unstable political climates who never returned, all of the parents of children abducted and gone without a trace. The stories of devastation are heart-breaking and inevitable. The common denominator is The Great Mystery – Death. Ironically, it is the most mundane mystery as well. We will all be touched by it, every one. And we know it. The two deaths that I experienced first hand were not shrouded by any great cloud of darkness. My sister and my husband both died right beside me: my sister in the driver’s seat of a car, my husband in our bed. They were not ‘missing’ by any means. And yet, I will never have the answer to basic questions like, “What were they feeling?” “When exactly did they lose consciousness?” “Was I to blame?”
Mystery is the Truth. We do not know. We delude and comfort our demanding brains in a parade of ideas. When that effort is expended, can we accept and live with Mystery? What does that feel like? How do I do that?
You see, again the questions surface, the never-ending tide of the probing lobe of consciousness. Maybe some day that flow will be replaced by the still, mirrored surface of a quiet mind.
© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
“You are my friend; you are special. You are my friend; you’re special to me. There’s no one else who is like you; like you, my friend, I like you.” Fred Rogers
Once in a lunar cycle, I am visited by a rather gloomy faerie who insists on blowing her pixie dust into my brain. It settles into folds of gray cells and blooms into spores that cause self-doubt and self-pity. I begin to feel fragile and overwhelmed and retreat into my cave to fight the infection. An outbreak of insecurities spreads like a rash across my self-esteem, starting with the Redundancy Insecurity. I remember that I am daughter number four: the youngest, the last in the parade, the one who will always straggle behind. Not only am I superfluous, I will never catch up to the others; I am not strong enough or smart enough or skilled enough to do what they can do. If there’s anything you want in a little girl, one of the others will be a better choice. Unless, of course, what you want is small and blonde and cute. I figured I won that category. Now that I’m over 50, though, that’s a remote psychological win. I am still convinced of being not good enough to this day, but I am no longer convinced of being smallest/blondest/cutest.
The next bump in the rash is the Unfavored Insecurity. We all know that sibling order can easily be trumped by favoritism. That story comes to us from the Bible itself. So the burning question of self-assessment is, “Am I the Favorite?” Your siblings will, of course, tell you that Mom always liked them best. Your parents will tell you that they don’t have a favorite. You will tell yourself in oscillating fashion that you might be, or might not be, the favorite. You will perhaps try to be the favorite by being compliant and charming and dutiful. Then one day, you will wonder if you have a personality at all and come face to face with the Invisible Insecurity. Yearbook pages flip by your memory, and you can’t recall yourself. There are hardly any photos of you in the family album. (Rationally, couldn’t that be because you were taking these pictures? At a pity party, rationality isn’t invited.) Other people seem to look right through you or past you. Your phone doesn’t ring for weeks at a time. You feel forgotten, insignificant, unloved.
A fine basis for becoming a writer. I will write so that others will notice me. I will be appreciated. I will be esteemed. I will be SPECIAL. I will have readers who wait to get my next installment, who are curious about my thoughts on every subject, who want only to bask in my presence and demand nothing from me save that which I deign to pen. I will not have to research or refine my essays. I will simply share as much or as little as I like.
I am delusional. I am neurotic. I keep writing. Could I perhaps be refreshingly candid and honest? Could I perhaps be sincere? Would that make me special?
What a game I’m playing. I look hard at myself, quivering in this crazy cave. I listen to myself. Compassion arises. I am myself. No one else is. Here I am, being. Being me. I’m the only one who gets this job. I want to do my best at it, no matter what that looks like. Sometimes it looks pretty pitiful. And that’s me doing my best at being me in this mood. The “I’m not special” mood.
I’m not looking for someone to contradict me or rescue me. I’m just looking at me and daring myself to love me or at least befriend me and for heaven’s sake, stop beating up on me.
That is all.
© 2014 essay by Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved