Once long ago, there was a girl who wished to be loved. Whatever she did, she did for others. When her parents wanted joy, she gave them laughter. When her friends wanted mischief, she became a jester. Sometimes at the end of the day, her mouth hurt from having to smile so very much.
One night she went to a party. The men around her were making crude racist jokes disparaging African-Americans. She felt uncomfortable, but laughed along with everyone else, feeling also the characteristic bond of condescension that such jokes inspire. Later, some African-American students came to the party and she joined in their conversation, nodding and agreeing in their denouncement of racism. She was always so agreeable. Yet she found herself drinking more than usual.
Later that night, alone in her dark room, she stared into the mirror for a long time, as if it were a strange face staring back. The eyes, especially, seemed so alien, almost hollow, filled with vast empty space, a kind of billowy nothingness. Who was this person? What did she really believe? What did she stand for?
Was there even a real person in there or just a reflection of the people around her? The neon light flickered and suddenly she felt like screaming.
The next few days were hell. Whenever anyone spoke to her, she’d start to respond, then stop, listening to her own voice as if it belonged to someone else. Did she really believe what she was starting to say? Or meeting someone’s expectations? These questions reached into her, like a black-gloved hand, strangling the words in her throat. Her friends began to avoid her.
One gray, overcast morning, she awoke with a cold stone, a cold vast planet crushing her chest. She struggled up as though waging a war against a hidden enemy. Outside, thunder rolled across the dark sky, and the wind began to whistle through the needles of the pine trees. She heard the wall of rain rustling across the corn field toward her, and then suddenly she was engulfed in a blanket of wet turbulence, she was running through the pine trees, running in a universe of thunder, wind and rain, running for her life.
Running for her life. What was this life, this “I” that struggled within her for release? She screamed into the wind, she screamed her name, but the wind tore the very words from her mouth, casting them into the storm. But as she ran, the wind and rain engulfed her, swallowed her up, and she engulfed the storm, until there were no longer two things, but one thing, vast, sentient, moving, filled with mysterious power. The One and the Many merged into the rush of pure Being.
What is the self?
Vincent Kavaloski, Ph.D., lived for 37 years in these Uplands in an intentional, eco-community devoted to peace and harmony with people and the land. He is currently concluding a long academic calling at Edgewood College and looking forward to being a freelance philosopher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary Friedel-Hunt’s “Living Well, Dying Well” column will return next month.