Tuesday, June 22, 2010

wise ass

Thou canst not then be false to any man.

-- Hamlet

“That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.”

-- “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Experience is over-rated. Some of life’s lessons you’d be better off forgetting. That’s what therapists are for, I suppose, and resurrections -- forgetting.

It’s a fallen world. The humble are reviled for arrogance, while the arrogant are praised for their humility. Was Socrates a humble man, or arrogant? How humble, to put his ignorance on the table! How arrogant, to think his questions worth reply! How dare you, sir, confess to ignorance! Why didn’t you make something up, like the rest of us? You make us all look bad. Hemlock for you, wise-ass.

Given where I started, I’m amazed to be here at all, doing what I do right now. If I can maintain this vector, there’s no telling what I might yet accomplish. It’s the course of my journey that predicts the future, not my inventory of wisdom and foolishness.

It’s not rocket science. Anybody could do it. I note in my heart’s ledger the ways that I can mess things up. Then I do something different. I learn responsibility by naming the thing I shall not do again. That’s what introspection, examination of life, therapeutic progress, are about – the sorcery of names: if you name the beast you have a chance to disarm it, and to open the portal that it guards.

My teachers say I am a teachable person. I provide, for myself and for my teachers, an inventory of my achievements and disasters, strengths and flaws (nowadays it’s correct to call them “growing edges, since no one’s self-esteem can endure any less than a perfect grade). That’s how one learns to do what one could not do before, what no one (not even one’s friends) thinks one can do.

But gatekeepers are not teachers. They do not deserve one’s integrity. My honest inventory, thrown before the three snarling heads of Cerberus, is so much steak awarded to bottom-feeders. I say, This is where I came from, and this is where I have come to, and look now where I’m going; and they say, That is not what we meant at all, that is not it, at all. Thank you for telling us your faults. We’ve written them down as you told them, and this is now your punishment.

That’s what wannabes do. They close doors, keep you in your place, and confine you to the Egypt that you came from. “Once a slave, you’ll always be a slave. That’s our job.”

Wannabes leave you with a “trust issue.” It’s one of life’s harmful lessons: don’t believe gatekeepers who claim the authority of teachers. Don’t ever “be yourself” with them. Pearls before swine.

This is a lesson you’d be better off without. You must come out of your hiding place, because if you don’t you’ll be a phony, unworthy of trust, a nascent wannabe. Thou canst not then be true to any man. It is only truth that can make us free. We can begin our journeys on no other terrain than the topographies of our selves. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where to go.

So you have to forget life’s deathly lessons. Like Scrooge, you must wake up one morning and love again, give again of your substance, offer again your trampled heart, name the beast and open the portal that it guards. That’s what I’m doing right now.

It’s been said that the Jews invented guilt. That’s not quite true. What they invented was responsibility. When the exiles came back from Babylon, they wrote about their Triumph and Disaster, and about their Second Chance. It was a history neither triumphal nor lachrymose. We had the blessing, they said, and we lost it, and it was our fault that we lost everything; and now we’re going to do better.

So when I go to Judgment, this is what I will say.

I’ve messed some things up, Lord. Here’s my ledger, you might have missed a few. I am, as my headmaster used to say, molded out of faults, but faults do not define me any more than bricks define the schoolhouse. Here’s the video; watch my story, and see how far I’ve come. I tell the truth and I’m teachable. I name what I don’t know; I declare what I don’t do well; I tell you what, if I’m not on my game, could go wrong. But notice that, because I name these terrors, things don’t usually go wrong. I’m often on my game.

“I name my faults. It’s the best thing about me, Lord, so deal with it. If You're threatened by my honesty, You are not God.

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