By Emily Bartran
I should probably preface this by saying that to see the beauty in this quote, you might have to be a little dark and twisted.
Not, like, Marla Singer dark and twisted.
Just enough to acknowledge that life, in its entirety, is as tragic as it is joyous, as painfully lonely as it is rich with love and friendship and serendipitous-bordering-on-fateful connection, and as unconcerned with our individual sufferings as it is generous with extra servings of the good stuff.
Basically, it’s an unpredictable mess, but it’s the only unpredictable mess we’ve got, and at the end of the day it’s usually pretty enjoyable.
I struggle, sometimes, to remember the latter halves of all those extremes life seems to hand us—you know, the halves that are actually good. Instead, I get caught up in the waiting game: once this is over I’ll be happy again, when I move here it will be easier to make friends, my life will really get started once I do this/that/the other.
Instead of figuring out how to make the life I’m currently living work best for me, instead of actually making a change, I make plans for a change. There is a lot of list-writing and smugness for having successfully “figured it all out” involved.
But I stumbled across a David Foster Wallace quote that simultaneously felt like a punch in the face and the tender kind of hug only a consoling mama-bear can offer.
It openly acknowledges the (really) bad stuff, but it doesn’t allow me to wallow in the waiting game.
It starts like this:
“…the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle…our endless and impossible journey toward home is, in fact, our home.”
My first reaction to this was a previously unexperienced emotional combination of emphatic agreement and the immediate disillusionment of the trajectory of the rest of my life.
Trying to figure out who we are is hard and horrific and only ever vaguely successful, but because this is what society has loosely defined as part of our “purpose,” that hard and horrific and only-ever-vaguely-successful struggle has become all-consuming. It’s what we aim to resolve every day, from choosing our career path to choosing the Instagram filter that best fits our virtual aesthetic. Cue emphatic agreement.
But—this struggle is my home? No no, that’s not right. This struggle is a means to an end. This struggle is taking me somewhere.
Once I figure out who I am, once I conquer this struggle…
And it was this exact moment in my train of thought that I found myself playing that pesky waiting game again. Cue disillusionment and metaphorical punch in the face.
The aim of trying to figure out who we are is nearly impossible to separate from the massive and minuscule decisions we make as we go about our daily lives. And you know what our daily lives are? Our entire lives.
We fall in love at a bar on an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday evening. We get the call that a loved one died while we’re grocery shopping. We take a business card from the guy sitting next to us on an exhausting plane ride and that business card changes the course of our career three months later.
The journey to establish our self—to build a home that is complete with four walls and a roof and has a concrete definition of You sitting at the dinner table—is never-ending, because every experience and decision we make further informs and develops that definition.
That means the struggle that comes along with it never ends, either.
Now that I’ve spent 613 words’ worth of your time presenting you with what probably seems like an absolute bummer of a quote, here are 119 more that will (maybe, hopefully) turn that perception around.
I think I may have audibly sighed with relief and solace when I read the rest of Foster Wallace’s quote. If words had the power to physically tuck the anxiety and expectations surrounding life, in general, away into a dusty little corner of my mind, that’s exactly what these words would have done.
Interestingly, though, I’ve shown this to a few people and each of them had completely different interpretations and responses to it.
So, the rest of the quote will be left here without any other comment. I hope you feel the comforting arms of a mama-bear around you:
“…finally, the door opens, and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. Das ist komisch.”