Much Love Monday

Shipping lines in the early 20th century were known to employ certain techniques to get passengers: one was to paint an "impression" of a destination through words, slogans, quotes. To think about the implications of such travel is to recognise the almost inarticulate allure of "words, slogans, quotes". By words are meant first-hand accounts; the stories we hear from friends, or friends of friends; slogans, "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere;" quotes, "When life gives you twists and turns, chic yourself up in Italy!"
We are tactile, emotional creatures: we retain that which has been given to us in heart-shaped containers. It is easier for us to patch together our impressions of a place, than it is to recite facts and figures, which are manifold and always changing, anyway. And so it goes for a person's life; we can have an impression of it. We seek to make ourselves intelligible through the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, to others. Hence the allure of the myth of the cliché, which does the talking for us.
Often, though, people's lives do not fit the cliché. They are often asked to explain themselves: their goals, life, identity. People want to know: if something is different, where does it fit in the larger map of things? Sometimes, the outline of a life is clearer to see, sometimes, not at all. It's like having that shipping brochure, then being on the boat for the very first time, feeling the lash and confusion of the sea.
I think we are both like the brochure and the maiden voyage. As I get older, I notice quite a number of my seniors who are unwilling to accept the turbulence of the voyage. They seem to prefer looking at themselves from the outside, which makes them haughty and crabby because they are working against nature, the nature that wants to humble them. But to fumble and tumble on the waves will leave us with a beautiful paradox: yes, we may be weak, but we also find we are strong; yes, we may be sensitive, but we can also be tough.

It is reassuring to think, and to see, that as we age, we can begin to file down the contours between the extremes-of the voyage and the gentle impression, but I do not think that this ever means that we know ourselves completely. Sometimes, when we least expect it, the flood gates swing open, and the valley is consumed.
And as for the gentle impression of ourselves-I don't know if we really ever possess it; rather, this is what we leave on others. Other people form impressions of the voyages we make. What we do have, though, is the clarification of our intent. Like, the intent to be happy, fair, and so on.
The most important dimension of human thought opens up at the "beginning" - beginnings are a seeking without knowledge of the ultimate "end". Beginnings are open, not fixed - and thus, rich in possibility. But here's the twist: something is only a beginning with relation to an end or a goal (all this, as per Gadamer). It is the end that gives meaning to the beginning. So, not only do we lack control of the impression of ourselves, but it would be fruitless to have one, as this would make redundant the purpose of living, which is to find that answer.
It should be all right to not know where we're going - so long as we have the navigation of good character. There was a beautiful article written on The Millions this week about a writer who is finding employment, against the odds, in an area she could not have foreseen a few years back. Why would we have to know how it will all pan out? We can skip to the end of a book, but not a life, because we've only just begun writing it. So, for today's Much Love Monday, I love beginnings. Whenever we need a new one, all we need to do is imagine all over again.

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