Truth and Daring

Every once in a while, I wonder why I named this blog Cloudy Day Writing; invariably, I find myself curled in a chair by a window letting in the cloudy light, and I remember again and again.

Introspection can be a dangerous thing, dangerous like a fire, life-giving and risky. Of late I seem to find the results of my introspection that I haven’t been crazy enough; there are some things that just don’t work if you do them by halves, like jumping off the high dive. Millions of thoughts and ideas and desires and longings tumble through me, creating a strong undertow. . .and so I sit on a rock on the shore and dabble my toes in it.

Some people, I’ve come to realize, want normal. I used to think I wanted normal, in part because I had my own definition of what normal was and in part because of what I saw of wild. Wild and crazy and out of control do not appeal to me, because in unhinging themselves from everything, they seem to loose the value of so much. But safe and secure has a different fear: giving lip service to things you never have to go out on a limb to value.

I think of the Greatest Generation. . .it’s the idea of who these people were and are, I think, more than who they really were or are. In our minds they are heroes; not in the modern sense martyrdom or piety, but in the old-fashioned sense of doing mighty works, of slaying dragons. When we pause to consider the hardships they had to go through, one part of us recoils. How wonderful and terrible that they carried through, and better they than us. The other part aches and longs, because we desire to be found not lacking, and the only way to be found as such is to be tested and tried. Ideally, if we could find the best of both worlds, we would find someway to be heroes without having to actually enter the crucible – to the result that even our children’s movies make commentary about how everyone being special means that no one is.

What is most interesting to me is not that we’re afraid. . .it’s that we don’t even know what we’re afraid of. Safety is its own drug, and like most drugs it’s also an illusion. The thing is that it’s not cured with an addiction to danger, either, and that’s the mystery. That piercing beam of light shoots narrowly down the middle: neither safety nor danger will save you; neither nomadic wandering nor cloistered monastery will save you. Your desire to make life valuable by throwing things away will not be successful; nor will hording treasured possessions give you life.

One of the most strikingly beautiful passages I recall is “For God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.” Hear it groaning? Feel it pulling? What so many of us stumble into is looking for a palatable way to have our souls reforged. I see some older people who seem to have entered some form of peace; I think they look back over their life and they decide that they’re about as forged as they’re going to get in this life and they’re okay with that. The young ones starting out, or the older ones who aren’t happy with their forging? There’s a desperation there, a desperation to find something that will shape them from who they see themselves into the heroes they’ve heard stories about. Like Frog and Toad setting out to be brave, they turn their face with determination toward the world.

But being forged, being in the crucible. . .it’s more about being made than about making oneself. It involves becoming malleable, of allowing oneself to be changed, to stop fighting. Surrender does not sound heroic; fighting does. The odd thing is, when we seek out the lives of those we think we admire, there’s far more laying down than fury. It’s daring precisely because it isn’t safe, putting aside defenses and becoming vulnerable, and we wonder how anyone survives it.

I suppose it’s odd, starting out a thought by saying I’ve been too timid and get to the end and say give up on trying to be in control, but I think that’s where the two thoughts come together: we’re afraid of failure. We imagine that being brave means going out and conquering failure, but I begin to suspect it just means slogging through failure – and that’s where the shaping of character comes. I begin to suspect that the difference between a fool and a wise person isn’t who avoids more failure, but who takes more from the failure.

Failure? Success? And we are back to the discussion of what “normal” is. Normal is partly a myth, of course; but like all bell curves, the idea is that the majority of people can agree on what the majority of people count as success. This is where I find that I don’t want to be normal. Academically, I have finally drifted down into the bell curve, I think. We don’t have strict academic rankings posted for all to see, but I typically am within any posted bell curves. I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like to be normal, but I find that — even if I am now in the company of those who can challenge me academically — I’m not normal, and I don’t want to be normal. Their ideas of dreams and their idea of success don’t run with mine. I can’t say, “yeah, me too” when they talk about what they want after graduating. And yet when people ask me what comes after graduating, I daren’t answer, even to myself.

That in itself is a telling response, don’t you think?

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