I think compulsively about Susan Sontag. The way I think about Joan Didion. And when Sontag was ill, I read her criticism, and criticism about her. Nearly every article about her casually mentioned that she’d taken flak for changing her position on certain issues. Critics mentioned it as though it were an intellectual failing. As though she’d hurried heedlessly and gotten stuck in positions she had to come back from. If she’d been more rigorous, more cautious, she wouldn’t have had to backtrack, would she?
I hope we’re rethinking our positions on the daily. I hope we are. That’s what thoughtful living requires. Experience alone will render some of the conviction of our youth false as we age. For one thing, we learn to be wary of conviction itself. Of certainty. The world has so many shades of grey. And so do our brains. We redevelop the skills of compassion that we had as children. Understand that it’s better to comfort a kid who’s crying than claim the ball he dropped when he fell. It’s better to cooperate. We’ll enjoy our meals more if we’re eating together.
In his memoir, Roger Ebert argues that the person we are when we’re young is the essential person. The one we always are. But I believe in grace, and I know that we learn by spectacular failure. We learn by fucking shit up. By injury and destruction. By ineptitude. By compromised courage. We learn by striving. I wanted to find myself down thought-alleyways where my theories didn’t hold. I wanted to find myself in arguments where I had no thought of winning and only wanted you to demonstrate to me that my thinking can’t hold. It can’t hold. It won’t support more than a handful of circumstances.
I’m not finished. I’m not done learning. I’m not done getting it wrong. Making messes. Backtracking. I’m not done. We need each other to work through our lives. We see with more compassion when we have more perspectives to consider. To love harder. To have grace for failure.
Question everything. Interrogate yourself. These choices you’re making, are they the ones you want to define you? And for how long? For how long do you want these choices to define you? I don’t know if I know better now. I don’t know if it works that way. My faith when I was younger was about my soul. And so in that sense, not much has changed. You grow when you’re nourished.
Maybe Ebert meant the essential person will be there when you’re fucking up just like it’s there in your triumph. You’re all these people. That’s what grace is, brother. You have only begun to understand what you’re capable of.