A poem/song of mine from 2007:
when your eyes glimmer from catching your reflection
and discovering, as if for the first time, your loneliness
i love you
when no other words will do
and yet your mind will not stop overflowing with words
i love you
and when no other has quite said it in the way you need
friend, these eyes of mine, i love you
i look forward to watching the lines crease on your face
i look forward to the graying of your beard
but most of all i look forward to seeing the sadness
melt away within these eyes
and be replaced by peace
i look forward to a time when i tell you
i love you
and you do not cry, but smile
Sometimes I speak about things such as “the basic human task,” which, to my slight credit, I emphasize I am only ever guessing at. I don’t know exactly what it would mean for there to be a basic human task, let alone what such a task would, exactly, be. But I know that something in me pushes me to try and orient myself around such a thing – even if only inconsistently, only at certain kinds of moments.
2007 was five years ago — a long time, especially in the life of a 25 year old. I can remember, as it happens, having the thought that 5 years was one-fourth of my life. Now it’s one-fifth, and yet I don’t feel so terribly far from the 20 year old who had that thought. In many ways, I feel much the same as ever I did. In fact, in some ways, I feel now what I felt then with more clarity, more poignancy, more punch. For example, the loneliness the younger me, to himself, sings about in the opening lines of this song — I know better now what I meant. There is a certain tendency in me towards isolation, but there’s also a sense of not being reached by many others, that not everyone, nor even everyone I have close relationships with, penetrates to the depths I am and comes to know me. (It dogs me, too, that I, similarly, fail to penetrate to the depths and come to know those I love.) This double-sided “loneliness” has met me in all my many manifestations throughout the years, and I find myself even a little better acquainted with it now than ever before.
We are all of us complicated and manifold selves wrapped up into a single-seeming narrative. Perhaps our greatest paradox is not the fact that – although we seem to be a single being with one life – we are actually many different beings and many different lives all at once and in succession… rather, our greatest paradox is the other side of the equation, that despite our many-ness, we actually manage to seem, to ourselves and others, to be a single person with a single life. “I love you” is sung, in this song, by me to me – but by a different me to yet a different me. And yet I alone know what it felt like — or, at any rate, I alone have a kind of tenuous first-person feeling/memory regarding what it felt like — to write this song, and to sing it for the first time.
We constantly change, at any given moment we may be any number of “selves” that all vaguely resemble one another in some ways, that all have some kind of unity despite their contradictions. But we also remain, ever, ourself. In this song I dream of the day when I no longer know the sadness I suddenly felt and simultaneously knew had long been with me – that is, I didn’t suddenly feel a new sadness and sing a song about it, but rather, I realized a sadness I had long felt, and sang about the dream of becoming free from it. But to become free from such a thing, one would have to become a different person. And if after all of the different persons I have been and become, I remain, in so many ways, the same person, is there hope for such a freedom?
I think thought can help us at least get a little closer — critical thinking, focused reflection, etc. Maybe our definitions of things are just a little off, and we won’t be able to move past them until we’ve corrected them. “I am what I am.” Maybe the sentiment is true — it’s just that the “what” is much less singular and consistent than we might at first think. So I don’t have to change the words to “I love me,” or, a bizarre equation, “I love I.” I relate to myselves in the first-, second- and third-person, and in ways that defy such clear categories and relations. My organism houses many selves, and many of my selves bleed out beyond my organism’s bounds. Maybe the problem of memory, or the problem of other minds, or any number of such problems are less significant than the simple problem of why I try so hard to convince myself that I relate to myself in a singular manner. I don’t know.
I can only gesture at something like a basic human task – and anyway, maybe that would only end up being the task of a basic human like myself. But at this moment, I’d like to think that task is something simple, something equal parts comfort and challenge. Something like learning more and better ways of loving our selves.