Sunday, March 10, 2013

Life Is A T-Shirt Whose Label Has Fallen Off

One of my father's well-worn party jokes is: "Life is a struggle. And then you die."
It doesn't get many laughs.
The fact that life is a series of dastardly, fate-driven events, whose consequences we accumulate, pack into trunks and lug around all our lives, without a visible destination in sight (or even on Google Maps) is a family motto in these parts.
Our Family's Coat of Arms: 'Semper Eadem' is Latin for 'Life Will Poop On Your Head'

I am on the cusp of starting a new year of my life. It's somewhat of a halfway mark in the human longevity timescale. Assuming I have as many years of struggling left, I'm telling you now - I'm not having it none of it no more.
So as long as we're making up shit about life, I'm getting me my own motto: 'Life is T-Shirt. Whose Label Has Fallen Off.'
My new Coat of Arms: The Empty Space is Latin for 'Huh? Who dat?'

I'm reading this essay by W.E.B Du Bois called the 'The Souls of Black Folk' and not that I'm comparing my personal struggles to those of the African-American but there are words here that ring true and comfort me. 
It's about the newly freed Black man (I'm going to assume, also woman), for whom the 1865 Emancipation declaration was not an instant release from racism. 
It's about the exhaustion of endless struggle and the dimming of hope. 
Even if we've never been slaves, it's something many of us can identify with to some degree (please don't be sending me sermon-like comments about how I will never understand what it means to be kidnapped from my home continent, dehumanized and sold like a piece of furniture, physically, mentally & psychologically brutalized and silenced for centuries.).

"Up the new path the advanced guard toiled, slowly, heaving, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings of the dark pupils of this school know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work.
The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or someone had fallen.
To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan always dim and far away. If however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self examination....

....In those sombre forests of his striving, his own soul rose before him and he saw himself - darkly, as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission."

The 'cold statistician' bit kills me. Just kills me. It's that ridiculous little scorekeeper inside us. The jerk with the checklist, reducing our lives to tickmarks & crosses. When we look back on our lives and try to sum it up, this icy-hearted statistician is there to give us the tally.
If life has been a struggle against the odds without an end in sight, the tally is likely to be a grim one. 
And if you're in a minority or have taken a non-conformist route, god help you, you're completely off the grid.

But Du Bois gives hope. Maybe the struggle isn't endless but an end in itself - an empowering end in itself. 
Maybe we're imagining the destination incorrectly. Maybe it isn't the goal we envisioned (please don't be sending me comments like: "What? Why am I starving myself if I won't lose 10 kilos???")
Maybe there's reward inherent in it. Like a 2-for-1 deal you weren't quite shopping for but can make something out of
Maybe it's the 'leisure for reflection & self-examination' that's the reward. Maybe it's the 'faint revelation of power'. 
Maybe, yes.

(And please don't be sending me comments like: "Big whoop. You can keep your sombre forests of striving. I still want my promotion.")  

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