07 May 2011

A Man in Full

As a kid I took the future for granted. I assumed that I would grow up, go to college, and find my place, or at least a place, inside society. I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, though, when the economy was roaring and gas stayed below $1.40, sometimes even dipping below a dollar.  Even though my parents were thoroughly working class and didn't have much use for intellectual arts, the world of the intellect and high culture appealed to me. I had no interest in learning a trade, and certainly not my father's vocation of automobile repair. My future didn't involve work coveralls and a day of dirty labor: I would wear clean clothes, have soft, clean hands, and would work in an office somewhere. I thought this was the way things should be for everyone, except for people who wanted to work on cars for whatever unfathomable reason.

That has changed. Part of it, surely, is simply the aging process. That complacency belongs in the mind of a sheltered child, but as we grow older and learn from experience, we realize that the future does not drop into place for us. We have to apply to colleges, apply for jobs -- we have to be active about our futures. But I've also been influenced by my studies these past five years -- freethought, social criticism, Stoicism, anarchism -- and their combined effect in enriching my sense of humanism. I don't mean humanism in the most modern sense,  this excellent belief in ethics based on reason and compassion and emphasis on improving and enjoying the here and now. I mean it as in humanitas, as Cicero would have used it -- as the cultivation of the best in myself, in my humanity.  I wish to live gloriously -- not to be gloried, but to fulfill in part what I find so wonderful about human potential, to lose myself in the ecstasy of being human.

I can no longer be content playing a normal role in society, in being so dependent on the system. The universe is change, and I want to be quick-footed enough to respond to those changes. I want to be able to roll with the punches that life will surely send my way, to spring up time and again ready to engage. In recent years, and most particularly in the past few months, I have experienced a growing desire to be potent.  I want to be capable of doing things. I want to be able to cook, and cook well: I want to be able to repair an automobile, to use weapons, to fix and even create furniture, to effect household repairs, to take care of a garden and create both beauty and food.  I'm pretty good at being an intellectual, but I feel as though I have pursued only half my potential up until now. There are a great many people who have the skills I desire, but scorn intellectual liberties. We are both impoverished. I want to be a Renaissance human -- developed intellectually, physically, philosophically, morally -- a man in full.

The Discus Thrower, Myron.

I am enraptured by human potential, by the beauty of action. I want to be self-reliant not only because it's the wise thing to do, but because the idea of self-reliance resonates so strongly with my perception of what humanity is capable of. We're such versatile creatures. While we may admire a cheetah for its speed or a bear for its strength, our hands and brains make us beings of near-unlimited potential. I take pleasure when I explore that potential.

I have a recurring vision of a man in deep emotional distress who has lost everything, but he holds his two hands up before him and weeps. "With these two hands," he cries, "I made all which I lost -- and with these two hands, I shall make it again."  I do not know where this image comes from -- whether I read something like it in a book, or if I simply dreamed it up. But I want to be able to say that of my own two hands.

3 comments:

Scott said...

And what a noble thing to aspire to --Fullness in the best, human sense of the word --I have little doubt you are blazing a proper trail.

-A fellow, 'wayward' blazer.

dbackdad said...

"Even though my parents were thoroughly working class and didn't have much use for intellectual arts, the world of the intellect and high culture appealed to me. I had no interest in learning a trade, and certainly not my father's vocation of automobile repair. My future didn't involve work coveralls and a day of dirty labor ..." -- For a few moments, I thought you were describing my life. I grew up in Iowa, dad a farm equipment mechanic, mom a house-wife. Grew up in small farm communities but never for one second saw my destination being there. Dad affectionately makes fun of my soft hands, for I didn't inherit any of his handiness or desire to be handy. And, as you say, I'm the lesser for it. At 67 years of age, my dad literally built their house with his own hands and he is one of the best mechanics I've ever seen. For all my university learning and a life spent in books, there is something missing.

Excellent post.

smellincoffee said...

Thank you, Scott and dbackdad. :)

At the moment, I am concentrating on which skills are most immediately practical: cooking and basic auto maintenance. The former is easier because I've a friend who loves to cook, and he's been very supportive in answering questions and providing lists of useful spices, equipment, skills, and recipes.