Readers, these are the times that try men's souls. Soul-trying times. And while I'm not a man, my soul feels tried. Of late, I've thought how much I would love to be a Jewish Anne Lamott. But I lack her faith, seeing as how I'm pretty much an atheist with some yearnings for agnosticism. Furthermore, I lack her dexterity in the whole "radical self-care" thing. I'm more of a moderate in that department. And really, have I any wisdom to impart? Hers is the wisdom of giving in to self-acceptance. That one is a tough lesson to grok.
Have I learned anything? Have I changed at all? Am I any wiser?
For example, just the other day I was remarking to myself that I seem to have become kinder. I’m less prone to road rage - now it’s just road irkedness seasoned with a soupçon of crudity. I’m more patient. I look upon my fella humans with more compassion than I once did. I cry about elephants and gorillas and feel they probably, along with other animals, are much more intelligent than we have thought them to be.
I ponder this softening. I welcome this late arrival of tact and nuance. I thought perhaps it was an effect of meditating, something I have done, off and on, for almost two decades.
Then I got into the car, because I live in the suburbs so I am repeatedly getting into my car, and tuned into the TED Radio Hour in progress on my local public radio station to hear some TED speaker talk about how humans grow kinder as we grow older.
Hunh, I thought. And blammo, all credit for my self-improvement disappeared with the click of a slide. There went any pretense to wisdom or enlightenment. If I’m kinder, it’s just because I’m older. That’s no accomplishment. That’s just time and luck. Furthermore, when I think about others in my life who are kinder than me - and there are many - and that they will continue to grow kinder than they currently are, and that I’m already at a deficit for kindness….
Well, these are thoughts that drive others to drink.
But not me, they just drive me to despair. I’m not much for drinking. Alas, I am still the person I am. Needy, often blind to nuance, desperate for validation from others. And right now, I really don’t like that person. I never particularly liked that person. And this is a pity, isn’t it? To grow old without accepting yourself.
Thus, the quest for success.
Recently, I read a profile of an astounding personality, philosopher Martha Nussbaum. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/martha-nussbaums-moral-philosophies
A sort of android of productivity and intellect, a person of incredible career success, of apparently unbounded confidence, of intense personal power, of many ex-lovers. According to The New Yorker, she has “published twenty-four books and five hundred and nine papers and received fifty-seven honorary degrees.” She has won so many awards that she apparently compares them to potato chips - something to enjoy, but "warily".
I have never read anything Martha Nussbaum has written. I feel as if I’ve heard of her, but then again, her name is not uncommon. I’m fairly certain she has no stake in the Nussbaum & Wu eatery on Broadway and 114th Street in Manhattan. I suppose I ought to check out her works, but I was more taken with her relentless schedule and her incredible self-discipline. We’re talking ninety-minute workouts, followed by an hour of singing, daily. Did I mention she is sixty-nine years old? Her work calls for, she says, “a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable.”
Here I am! But, oops, where is she? She comes across as anything but needy and vulnerable.Talk about radical self-care. Did I mention the "Lamaze is for wimps" comment re: her daughter's birth? The colonoscopy sans sedation? Strength run amok has its allure, as anyone knows who is a fan of Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story.” Isn’t it much more enticing to watch for slivers of vulnerability in the strong than to wade through the marshes of vulnerability with the, well, vulnerable? The possibility that the strong and invulnerable outside will turn out to be on the inside a litter of warm puppies who escape and rollick and frolic in public adorability - isn’t that one of those seven universal plots we love so much?
Vive la République!