The Speech I Wish Someone Had Given Me When I Was 12
Plato considered the meaning of knowledge as remembering who you are.
As Above, So Below
Who are you and why are you here? A meditation on being human.
"...the ordinary man is passive. Within a narrow circle (home life, and perhaps the trade unions or local politics) he feels himself master of his fate, but against major events he is as helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavoring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him."
The last thing we are called upon by our common fate as human beings is to be ordinary. The ordinary demand of life from a human being, on the contrary, is that we be extraordinary, exemplary, that on the day of our death, the moment before the world forgets us forever, those that are left are forced to say one thing: "There was a man, there was a woman who truly lived on the Earth and another like him, another like her will never be seen. We are poorer for losing them; but we are immeasurably enriched by their having been here - the world would not have been complete without them."
We are, each of us, utterly necessary to the creation of the world - what some call God would have no hands, eyes, nor voice in this place without us to create and see and speak out what should be done, witnessed, and said. God depends upon us and has handed us a great burden and responsibility with our living souls and able minds.
Each of us is handed a particular, special destiny in the form of an unfinished, incomplete, and imperfect world - the fragment each of us finds here and that causes us difficulty and pain. The difficulty and pain is our vocation, our literal calling - that thing which must be done and made right in a way no other can; how and whether our fragment of existence is faced is our choice, for God will not face it without us, God will not correct it without us making the choice, God will not repair it without our hands performing the labor and our souls creating the plan.
And this is the way it is, from politics to ethics, from art to religion, from the environment to war, from our own struggle to stand up out of the bed, dragging ourselves through another day to our choice to live seeking truth or sleepwalking through falsehoods and inherited opinions. It is this way, from our choices about whether and how to raise children, our choice how to treat ourselves and allow others to treat us, our choice about whether to see others as our brothers and sisters or as our mortal and irreconcilable enemies, our choice whether to tolerate differences and leave each to her own conscience and search for a meaningful life or attempt to batter others into submission and conformity to a rigid orthodoxy and a brutally unforgiving patriotism.
Is there injustice in the world? Are people tortured? Are there concentration camps? Is speech suppressed, are thoughts silenced, is creativity maligned and ignored? If you can see it, if you can experience it and understand that what you see is an injustice, it is your burden to set it right and bring justice inasmuch as you can.
Is more value set to clever lies and rewritten histories than to hard and difficult truths and faithful reports of what one has experienced and heard? Then it is your duty and responsibility to speak, speak well, speak loudly and clearly and say what no one else dares to say.
It is your destiny to dare, to try. That is who you are and the great gift you are to this world. Amidst the pettiness and the small dramas of self-centered people, amidst the seeming triumph of avarice and violence and hatred and even stupidity and malaise, you are called out to be better, to discover what, in your life, it means to be better.
Your true name is yours and yours alone - it is an echo of God's own Unspeakable, Unknowable Name; it is a word to be conjured with; a word that brings hope and promise into a fragment of the world that, without you, will fall to pieces like so much dried bread crumbled between the fingers of an unthinking child.
Your name - it is up to you to discover what it is and what it means, to struggle with your angel and refuse to release it till it gives up its secrets, the message it lives to deliver to this place through you.
It is not your destiny to hate the world and turn from it, nor is it your destiny to be moved by it and enslaved by its charms and horrors. It is your destiny, inasmuch as you are able, to master yourself and creatively change the world for the better - to speak and do and bear witness in the place where you find Fate has delivered you.
Orwell observed, "against major events he [a common person] is as helpless as against the elements. So far from endeavoring to influence the future, he simply lies down and lets things happen to him." And this tendency springs from an illusion - the illusion that, if one cannot face and overcome All, one has absolutely no power in this world.
This is deluded thinking, an improper self-forgetfulness. Plato taught that all knowledge is anamnesis, learning to remember what one has forgotten - what one needs to know, how to perform one's mission, what one's mission and role in life precisely is are all contained within oneself. Coming here was a choice itself; where one arrived was a choice; what one was to do was chosen before arrival. The world is filled with crises and disasters - the world and the history of humanity is nothing except crisis and disaster with periods of exhaustion during which the nativity of the next disaster is prepared. Yet, this is life, and this is the life each of us chose to face... not tragically, or as pointless victims, but as the living answers to each crisis.
Each of us is an answer in search of our question.
Major events erupt - wars, tyrants, storms, earthquakes, plagues, angry and abusive people, neglectful people, the ignorant, the stupid, the manipulative, the willfully vicious. Each of these is a question, a need in search of an answer - and each of us contains the answer, or our special part of the answer, to each needy, impoverished question. And we either choose to make our lives living answers or else we betray ourselves and destinies; we fail to be who we are and lose our integrity; we fail in our mission and become ourselves needy, hungry questions, parts of the broken, crisis-eaten world.
Major events erupt, but each of us is given her part to face, and only her part - the soldier does not fight the entire war alone, but distinct battles and often in the company of fellow warriors. This is our fate here: We fight the war by making our way through the specific battles that are ours, and we never fight alone - our fellows fight beyond our sight and hearing at times, perhaps, but they fight; they are involved in their portion of combat and on their own piece of ground strain to bring their light forward into the thick and resistant darkness.
And we have no idea who it is we assist or how in the battle - a kind word to a stranger at the right moment may be all that stands between them and despair and self-destruction; and upon the recovery of themselves may rest the fate of scores of people. Perhaps our destiny, our sole purpose for being here was to deliver that seemingly insignificant word - how miniscule it appears from the outside, but how weighty and of what magnitude the act is in its hidden actuality.
We never fully know - most of us never fully know the true value of what it is we do or refrain from doing. It is all a risk, an audacious, adventuresome risk we actively accept or passively, timidly avoid.
And if you are blessed by anyone's presence for a moment, an hour, a day, a week, four months, thirteen years, all of your life, count this as a visitation of the Divine - tell yourself that this was the Presence of God Almighty and count it a gift of infinite worth - for you may never grasp what value it actually had this side of Eternity; but grasp that it made your existence meaningful for the time it lasted and did the same for the Other.
The uncommon person, the person who has grasped she is not common and that none can make her common except herself, by her own choices, does not allow herself to feel powerless for overlong - the future is her responsibility, her business. She is here to bring it about, influence it, to contribute her special word and creativity to the ongoing creation of the world. Without her, without you, without me, there is no creation, only decline and destruction and stagnation. Without our courage, fear reigns. Without our living blood put to the service of worthwhile pursuits, large or small, there is only death and "nature, red in tooth and claw."
Without us, God is silent in this world. Without us, nothing good happens, nothing glorious and beautiful erupts - or, if it should erupt, it goes unappreciated, unloved, unadored. The world becomes a domain of unopposed shadows and the holy sparks of God's own Being here are swallowed up and forgotten for ages at a time, if not forever.
We are not common beings. That is not our calling. In the days of confusion and hopelessness, it is our calling to be the calmness and the hope the world requires to achieve a sort of harmony and relative perfection. No one is sent here to be passive as tides of evil and mindlessness wash over the world - we are sent here to struggle, to dare much, and to unlearn fear and timidity. We are sent here to learn to live and live well... to make it meaningful, to require our presence here to be worthwhile, to bring down here our share of Heaven and give the world Hell.
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