Since I was a boy I have always fought to uncover and look directly at harsh truths in the inner dialogue of my mind. You need to hunt them down. In a way, this is part of any "spiritual life" worthy of the name. You have to discipline yourself to find and consider them over time rather than live in denial, which causes unhealthy habits that atrophy the self over time. But to live with harsh truths is not easy either, at least at first. For the longest time, and still to this day, I prefer to ignore the "prophet in his own country" syndrome one finds in conservative and traditional circles: countless talented younger men with potential and energy being held back and wasted by the largest older generation in American history sitting in their positions for decades without replacing themselves. You don't want to think this about your own circles. I still don't. But.
I have little choice but to sometimes studiously ignore, though never forget, the somewhat harsh truth that more than half my life may be over. While we must always remember our mortality and the judgment on the trial of our life that it opens us up to, it can get too difficult to execute on the promise and purpose of your remaining days if you dwell with excessive melancholy on how the benefits of life you have drawn seem impossible to repay or justify in your remaining allotment, whatever it may be.
The good news is that we are granted some license to ignore the melancholy to attend to the business of living: through the realization it arouses that life is a gift, and our poor power to add or detract is always eclipsed, not by heartless fate but by a loving God.
I prefer to ignore, or rather I simply don't SERIOUSLY think about, my mortality. This is kind of weird since I believe think about it all the time, especially when reading philosophy. Now, I choose the word seriously with care, since I think questions of mortality enter into our lives early on. But if one really, truly thinks about death or, conversely, the preciousness of life, they would likely act in a way contrary to their current mode of existence.
All this reminds me of my most favorite passage from Nietzsche’ The Gay Science. Read this and then think about your mortality. Maybe I should do the same.
The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you in your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again—and you with it, speck of dust!"— Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: "You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine!" If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you; the question in each and every thing, "Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?" would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?
I suppose in some sense I view the Christian faith as a daily practice of internalizing the most uncomfortable truths possible. “And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” If you can achieve a frame of mind in which you’ve really grasped that—about yourself first, then about all your favorite people, and only then, finally, about your least favorite people as well—then you’ll find a lot of your rage just turns into sadness.
What I mean is, anger feels good in a gnawing-at-a-loose-tooth sort of way. And make no mistake, I indulge in it constantly. You should hear the things I say to myself in private about Gavin Newsom: they’re not pretty.
But lurking beneath all my pissed-off swagger is something more profound which, if I sit with it, makes me want to weep more than anything. Here’s California, one of the most beautiful places in the world, positively gleaming with light and life, and we’ve chosen to put its management into the hands of a self-deceived and deceiving little man whose sweaty lust for power is equaled only by his staggering capacity for failure.
I weep for the people he has hurt and is hurting. I reproach myself bitterly for living in his state and not having done more to organize resistance because of my own comfort and inertia. And if I’m really in the right headspace, I weep too for Gavin and Garcetti and all these other putzes themselves. Because, to paraphrase the prostitute Sonia in a climactic moment of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: what have they done—what have they done to themselves?
So I suppose what I’d like to ignore is the fact that I’m part of this world, too, this crooked and self-destructive little clown show. All the same pettiness, all the same arrogance, all the same self-absorption that I see in Gavin Newsom’s smug face are there in my heart, too, when I take the time to look for them. I look less often than I should, because it’s not a sight I like to see.
But when I do, of course, the grand irony is that I inevitably reflect on what stops me from acting like Gavin on the daily, which is nothing other than the abundant and unmerited grace of God in his son Jesus Christ, who intervenes unceasingly and without rest on my behalf—and yes, on Gavin’s too, if he will accept. Which is, of course, not an uncomfortable truth but an unmeasurable comfort, and a consolation for all my days.