I have not gained in height. I’m too old. Yet, one day I found myself in my car, adjusting the rearview mirror. As I tilted it upward, it occurred to me that I had to do so because I was sitting up straighter.
Let me assure you, nothing extravagant had happened in my life. In fact, things were probably depressingly the same, hardened like diamond into patterns. I was different, though. Months and months of rigorous emotional and personal growth manifested itself in a newfound confidence, self-worth, and faith in myself.
I had nothing else in the world, but I had finally found myself. And for some reason, that elusive treasure equaled all I lacked. Like Amory Blaine in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “This Side of Paradise”, I wanted to wail to the world, “I know myself, but that is all.”
Ha, but there is a long way to go. It caused me to think about this whole journey of self-actualization. Knowing, accepting, and liking yourself takes a lifetime.
A world of difference lies between living your days plagued with interpersonal stressors, financial mind plagues, and uncertain futures…and…jogging in the cold mornings, watching the sun dart oranges and reds across the languid clouds in the sky, and exclaiming, “That sky is mine! Nothing and no one can take that away from me!” Oh, it doesn’t matter if this guy calls, or I don’t make enough money, or I don’t know what career to choose. Because I am me, I can enjoy that moment.
It’s too simple, you might say. Yes, the image of the sun rising is a trite one. The point: the sunrise is different for us all. For all of its triteness, no one ever seems to get tired of it, because it touches us all in distinct, individual ways, just as our individual journeys are distinct, private little things that no one can live for us.
Our culture of self-love, “finding yourself,” is not new. Throughout the centuries, intellectual men have championed the cause of self-dependence and the importance of the individual experience. My favorite movements included the overlapping Transcendentalism and Romantic periods, including such great minds as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, not to mention the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.
One poem in particular describes to us the utter elation and despair of self-knowledge. The poem is by a lesser-known British contemporary of the Romantic Poets named John Clare (I urge you to run, find his poetry as soon as you can). I hope you enjoy it, remembering how literature and poetry can be important tools in finding ourselves, too.
I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below–above the vaulted sky.