Friday, July 25, 2008
Of Struggle, Progress, and Beauty
How time flies. There are mornings that I wake up, and for a second I am unsure as to where I am, how I got here, and I am certain that this thing was nothing more than some wild fabrication in my mind. But only for a second. After that, the synapses begin firing slowly, and I begin to understand the complexly beautiful situation I find myself in here. It is a situation wrought with difficulty, predicated on the idea that I can be stretched, that I will experience pain, and that I will endure. I have come with this backwards idea in mind; that life is nothing without struggle, and instead of run away from it, it is best to meet it head on. To deny it victory but still allow it to change me, as I think it would anyone.
I will tell you now, I am terrified of failure. I always have been, if you want to know the truth. And I find it remarkable that when I look at my life over the past few years, it has been a dance of sorts, an awkward dance around things that are really difficult, things that I know I am not good at, that I don’t understand. And I don’t mean in an academic way; anyone can learn so mething new if you give him enough time. I mean in a way that fundamentally resists categorical struggle, a struggle that involves all my elements, that pushes them towards something greater through something inherently hard. It seems strange that, for some reason, people don’t change, people don’t grow up unless they are forced to, unless they are brought to their knees and told, “you don’t have what it takes. Do something about it.” It seems ironic that the only way one can really be pushed into being a better person, a more complete human being is through the very struggle that we try so hard to avoid. But I will say it again, I am afraid of failure. No dark beast conjures in my mind such grave things as this. But here I am, running headlong into a mist, into a fog that clouds my vision and through which I am perpetually tripping and falling, but ever pulling myself up to continue. I like the way Fredrick Douglass put it: “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” So succinct, so poetic, so true.
I was thinking yesterday about beauty for beauty’s sake. An author I love once said that beauty seems to be the least selfish emotion that we can experience. That beauty is just beauty. But it is so easy to think of beauty as something that we see on vacation, that exists outside of what we experience daily. But that is a lie, let me tell you, the invitation is always open. It is so easy to see here, in both the physical landscape and in the people. My window opens to a beautiful view, the mountains stretch out into the distance, shrouded in mist with the sun penetrating just enough to create a glow as if God himself was lightly touching the hills, the trees, just for the pleasure of my wandering eyes. How lovely, I am often lost in it. I also think of yesterday, while I was at Tae Kwon Do, we were training with several kids, and we would spar across from them. I was sparring across from this beautiful little Korean girl, probably not more than 7 or 8 years old (but a black belt) and in between the Master’s instructions, without saying a word she would walk over to me and gently take my hand or my arm and adjust it so that I was doing the move properly. She would move my arm, step back, and I would smile, and she would smile back. And in that moment there was an understanding that crosses cultures, that crosses languages, and it was profound. My mind also travels to a couple of days ago, when a few Koreans came to visit a few of us Americans in our dorm rooms, and apparently word had gotten around that I played the guitar. The first question out of a few of their mouths was, “can you show me guitar?” At first I said, “no lets do it later, some other time” but as they insisted and brought me a guitar, I realized I had no choice. So I sat in a chair in the hallway of our dorm, picked up the guitar, and played two of my favorite songs. As I was playing, the crowd of Koreans grew bigger until we were completely blocking the hallway. Looking to each of them, smiling and clapping, was something special I can’t describe. We had this wonderful moment together, and when it was over I realized how thankful for gifts like that I am, because they make things so much better, so much richer, they make abstract things like beauty so much more tangible. A smile from a little girl, a beautiful sunset, music played from the heart and shared with friends, these are all things that have affected me lately and kept me sane, and for that I am grateful.