Apparently, we’re all – or at least most of us – still opening bananas from the difficult end. Despite the fact that we’ve been shown how to do it otherwise. But we’re creatures of habit. Literally. Social organisms that move through the world according to patterns of behavior we’ve incorporated into the very physical patterns of our cells.
When my kids were small I took them to the science museum in London. There were holes in one of the walls and visitors were supposed to put their hand in the darkness to touch something. And to guess what it was.
I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And knew I was supposed to teach my kids to do it: Be curious. Be brave. Be trusting.
Ready, get set, said my brain. But my body said no. What does it really mean to be brave? Is it a matter of handing over the reins to the intellect and obeying a painful kick to the rib?
The body’s wisdom is illogical. This is is a perfect fact.
This fall I tried virtual reality for the first time. We were supposed to walk out onto a beam extending from a high rise hundreds of meters over a busy street. I bent from the waist and peered out of the window. Put my foot on the narrow beam.
I don’t want to teach my brain to override my body. I am inefficient. I will continue to open bananas from the wrong end. Because I am perfectly human. And I come from perfectly human specimens. Who do we think we are?
I’m from holidays of blond, wood-veneered bureaus weekend nightgowns and tuck-ins, hospital corners in the guest room that was my room
I’m from decorative cinder block and roach clips pools that have been drained for years a parade of uncles shaking the etch-a-sketch clear
with hands whose ridges catch motor oil and resin and hold the world tight like desert heat in your lungs when you run and keep running
I was beginning to fall asleep just after dinner last night, but forced myself awake hoping for a good night’s sleep instead. And right before bed I checked my phone to see if any of my students had received positive Covid results. And, yes, to see how many of the Republicans in the United States would be objecting to the election results. And, yes, I wan’t alone in anticipating an actual coup attempt. Or an actual coup.
There are very few moments in my life where I felt or was aware of a kind of quantum leap in my own maturity. But I do remember when I realized I no longer romanticized drama.
Surely I am not the only person who as a kid half-wished to experience an earthquake, a plane crash, or (from my position of privilege) a riot. I remember feeling deprived for not having a Vietnam war to protest. A cause to wear – like a costume. A purpose that would brand me – years before branding was a thing. An experience that would give me and my life a kind of legitimacy.
I suppose having kids helped me understand mortality – and that imagined experience is not experience. And that, despite my fondness for stoicism and Buddhist detachment, life shouldn’t be like watching a movie. You can’t choose to leave the theater, and you can’t forfeit your responsibility.
You are in the room.
I’ve never talked to anyone about this. But I figure we all have been brought up with the same Aristotelian narratives: adversity gives our lives meaning. It makes us significant. It makes us protagonists.
We long for our lives to have an arc, don’t we? Think of every “grown-up” who ever told a young person: you have no idea what real life is. As though we require a satisfying story to justify our existence. As though our experiences aren’t real until they are set in a set narrative framework and everyone applauds. Or gasps.
I know there are people who haven’t felt this. And because of them, I’m convinced that being seen is synonymous with being loved. It’s why unloved children are attention-seeking.
I’m fully aware this isn’t an original thought. But I believe it’s in the moments when we’ve circled around by way of our own reasoning/experience to reformulate cultural cliches, aphorisms, or proverbs on our own, that we are able to see each other as fellow humans. These are the moments when knowledge might become wisdom – and when it should become clear that wisdom isn’t a matter of originality.
I see the paradox in my own thinking: defining wisdom as a matter of realizing that other people think the same way that you do is very nearly defining wisdom as a kind of total immersion into one’s own ego.
But from another perspective, it’s a genuine relinquishing of the ego: understanding that you see things the same way that others have before you. It seems to naturally lead to humility – being late to the party on this one concept probably implies you don’t actually know it all yet. And you may not have really arrived where you think you have.
Can we be loved without being significant? Maybe the greater question is can we love while still believing in the legitimacy of significance.
I went to bed a bit past midnight last night. And have to admit (or choose to admit) to ambivalence: relief and hope on the one hand, a sense of anti-climax on the other.
Trump is no tragic hero. He’s not about to have his moment of anagnorisis, gouge his own eyes out, and wander off to an abandoned Soviet golf course in Kirghistan.
Maybe we make up our stories because it makes it so much easier to love the world. I think that’s what Aristotle as trying to say in Poetics.
“No one ever said life was going to be easy,” said everyone, everywhere.