41 as of yesterday. What echoes: “What do I have to show for it?”
I’m not depressed thinking about it, but it’s tough to think through. It’s a nagging, aggravating question.
So I believe I have to try something simpler.
Can I have one good thought?
A useful thought, one which makes me happier. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it need not apply to all situations.
It just needs to work.
So here’s Carolina Ebeid’s “letter to the Corinthians.” “My most / magnificent / self, she runs / through a grass, / larkly” builds from “βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι (blepomen gar arti di esoptrou en ainigmati),” “for now we see through a glass darkly” (1).
I’m thinking about αἰνίγματι (ainigmati). Enigma. I see through a glass in puzzlement. I don’t know if today can be the mirror I need; I don’t know if I can be that mirror. There’s just glass, the possibility of reflection, and a problem not unlike Meno’s paradox. How would I know if I actually saw myself?
letter to the Corinthians Carolina Ebeid But my most magnificent self, she runs through a grass, larkly.
When I hear “Corinth,” I don’t think of a small but growing community, eager to advance in a new faith.
Because of my training, I start thinking about the battle between aristocrats and democrats in Corcyra, formerly subject to Corinth. Thucydides talks about this at length and his reasoning makes our modern world. The stories he tells are especially vicious. The few (oligarchs, aristocrats) were scared of the many (democrats) and struck first, with violence for the sake of terror. But because they couldn’t win decisively, when the democrats took over, the reprisal was especially bloody.
People did more than identify with their faction. They identified others with their factions so as to dehumanize them. Killing others became a moral necessity, a painless process for the conscience.
Through a glass darkly, through a glass in puzzlement. Human beings can’t recognize who they are. They won’t see themselves in others even when everything is on the line.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.*
I feel like Paul is a bit too blunt—he’s saying “Grow up.” That if we try for maturity, we not only put away childish things but achieve self-knowledge. “I shall know just as I also am known.”
I don’t know if that works for people eager to execute their political opponents.
I don’t know if this works for me.
It is true I have to pretend to be mature in order to get things started. Make a list of errands. Take care of the car. Pay the bills. Clean. Be polite when insulted. Get used to being ignored. Have an action plan when given nothing. Stand up for others, though respect cannot be expected.
Pretending to be mature, though, doesn’t guarantee self-knowledge. Or maturity. It’s necessary but not sufficient.
The “childish things,” I’ve found, have to be understood in order to grow. Not obsessed over, not turned into an idol of lost innocence. But something more than “put away.” The Biblical convention of renaming someone after their conversion doesn’t quite make sense to me. You don’t get to change who you were. 41 years feel heavy.
“She runs / through a grass / larkly.” The childish things point to play. Why can’t the grass be fun? Why can’t we move and sing as if we were birds?
Joy at the discovery—at the mere existence—of the world. Wittgenstein in the Lecture on Ethics speaks of this being a powerfully religious emotion. But it’s Socratic, too. Like dancing through the history of philosophy—maybe fire is the origin of things, maybe love—and finding something unique because of the dance itself.
It’s every child finger-painting exuberantly, and every parent hanging it on the wall. For a moment, the best kind of art critic.
It’s everyone who just listens. All I hear right now is my refrigerator buzzing. A car passes by. The silent gaps calm. This life thing—it’s happening. I have the privilege to just be, if only for a moment.
“My most magnificent self.” The self that shines, the self that transcends. The self so great that their soul must be great. If everyone was more like them, we’re all better.
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The trick is for faith, hope, and love to abide. I don’t want to be too glum and speak of an absence of hope. But hope is difficult right now, to mention nothing of love.
Faith, however, is stranger than I thought. Childlike playfulness that rejoices in the world is faith of a sort. You couldn’t go a child, though, and then ask them to explain that faith to you. If you pushed an older child to articulate how faith works, you’re usually on a path of misconceptions. “Either people believe or they don’t; either they obey God or they don’t; all sins are the same, all a betrayal.” There’s no sense of why anyone would want faith.
Words are very much an adult domain, requiring that much more maturity to access. I’m still not there yet. This much I can recognize of myself: the child still needing to grow.
(1) Wikipedia, 2021. “1 Corinthians 13.” Last modified: 19 February 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13