A Great Contradiction

“To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

This blog post is existential and talks about death.

When I was a teenager, I wrapped the words of Eowyn, and therefore the words of Tolkien, around myself like a blanket.

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

This I still fear.

I write in my journal regularly, and the topic almost always comes back to “impact”. Can I have an impact on the world? What kind of impact will I have on the world? How should I go about having a greater impact on the world?

There’s only one answer to these questions I can ever give, “I don’t know, but I’ll sure as hell try.”

Tonight I’m not so sure of some things. There are still questions that I ask, but tonight they are different: Do the words of Eowyn still haunt me? Do I really want to have an impact on the world for the good of the world?

Or do I just want to be remembered?

The first 30 years of my life had been consumed by the thought that I should die because I was a failure. The accusations against human beings, including myself and those closest to me, were repeated to exhaustion as I sought to find love from others.

Except, I wasn’t really trying to “find love”, was I? Sure, that was the diplomatic and acceptable way of putting it which would earn me pity from onlookers. What I was really looking for was a love that matched my definition.

And my definition was skewed.

Around my 30th birthday, I realized, thanks to Leah, that people did love me, but I had chosen not to believe or accept it. I had an expectation of what love meant, and people who loved me in their own way did not meet those expectations. Unfortunately, I also didn’t know what my expectations were, and I certainly couldn’t communicate them well, so nearly every relationship was washed away.

That realization led me to a place of self-healing which was immensely important. I began to accept others and the way that they loved me, rather than condemn them, and myself, for not meeting my unspoken expectations for love.

Now I enter a new phase of life where love is real and genuine and accepted, yet that quote from Eowyn still tugs at the tendrils of my thoughts.

Those tendrils feel like they are about to snap. I feel as though I am a fraud, diving from one attempt at greatness into the other, all under the guise of wanting to “impact the world”.

What I really want is to live beyond myself.

The first 30 years of my life had been consumed by the thought that I should die because I was a failure. I’ve lost 30 years of my life, and now I want to get those years back. Except… that’s not possible. All I have left is however many years will make up the dash between two dates on a tombstone, minus 34 years.

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, which I just finished yesterday, one of the pivotal failures of humankind 20,000 years into the future is its lack of properly understanding its past. They could not comprehend the necessity for innovation and technological evolution, and so they stagnated until their ruin.

In an attempt at thinking how I might impact the world (that is, how I might be remembered for my impact beyond my lifespan), I have fallen into thinking on a more and more grandiose scale. Time expands ever onward into the future, until that future brings us to a possible humanity 20,000 years from now when we don’t even remember where our original home planet is.

What kind of impact that I have today, or 20 years from now, or 200 years after my death, matters on that kind of timeline? Perhaps an evil impact would be more well-suited for the kind of long-lasting remembrance I may actually be after. We humans can recall the evils and terribles of our history so very, very well.

Yet that is not the kind of legacy I can possibly aim for. I know the formulas and equations which could bring it about. I know the machinations of humans well enough to be able to manipulate them for my own selfish need for grandeur. But I would fail at the moment I attempted to follow through on that goal because I don’t have it in me to keep that kind of act up. Most of us would – we aren’t all cut out to be listed among the named Terribles.

It is said that perfect altruism cannot exist within humans. I certainly know that is true of myself. For all my big talk of wanting to do good in the world, I still have this nagging desire to be noticed when I do good in the world.

Maybe that’s not so bad, though. Maybe, just maybe, it is the existence of selfishness within a person that allows them to actually do something good. Can you really love a person if you don’t have the ability to hate? Can you shine a light into a room that is already as bright as the sun? Can you really “lay down your life for a friend” and do selfless good for them unless you have a life you love and would love to expand beyond itself?

To become good at something, to truly become an expert at it, one must practice. I have to go to the gym to build muscle. I have to play piano to master the technique. I have to write in order to become a better writer.

And, so, I must practice doing good in order to later do a greater good.

Life is a journey. The entirety of myself is not known right now. I cannot judge who I am, or who anyone else is, until I can see their whole life’s history laid out plainly and clearly in front of me.

So, today, I lay out part of my life for you, and for myself, to examine. I am selfish. I am greedy. I am not so righteous and self-sacrificing as I try to seem. I am driven by an ego that wants to consume the history of the world and be remembered in textbooks.

It seems I must harness that selfishness and yearning for remembrance to do what seems so contradictory. I must practice doing good so that one day I can do an even greater good. Perhaps in the years that follow today, in the trials that force me to do good against my will, I may accidentally stumble across the goal line and do some genuine, real good in the world.

Or maybe I won’t, and I’ll be forgotten. At least I should give it a good shot to not be.

But… there’s still that nagging question: How will I know I’m on the right path? How will I know I’m actually practicing the right things so that I can have a proper, long-lasting impact on the world?

I don’t know, but I’ll sure as hell try.

Leave a Reply