Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow, Russia
If you are a writer, you know when a story will write itself.
Such a moment came after reading a passage from Tom Rachman's fascinating true-to-life novel about predicaments of the newspaper industry, The Imperfectionists. I noted at once that a story is being written in my head and would be put to paper with my favorite Faber-Castel pencil.
So this is how it goes... A reporter is sent to interview a once well-known author. His assignment is to prepare an obituary about her as she is getting on with age and the facts about her life are sparse. Reflecting on her own encounter with death knocking-in, she thinks aloud describing the absurdity of ambition, and yet remaining in its thrall.
"It's like being a slave all your life, then learning one day that you never had a master, and returning to work all the same. Can you imagine a force in the universe greater than this? Not in my universe. You know, even from the earliest childhood it dominated me. I longed for achievements, to be influential - that, in particular. To sway people. This has been my religion: the belief that I deserve attention, that they are wrong not to listen, that those who dispute me are fools. Yet, no matter what I achieve, the world lives on, impertinent, indifferent - I know all this, but I can't get it through my head. It is why, I suppose, I agreed to talk to you. To this day, I'll pursue any folly to make the rest of you shut up and listen to me, as you should have from the start!"
And she continues, "Here is a fact: nothing in all civilization has been as productive as ludicrous ambition. Whatever it's ills, nothing has created more. Cathedrals, sonatas, encyclopedias: love of God was not behind them, nor love of life. But the love of man to be worshipped by man."
What she describes can be viewed as a slice of our common folly. My folly certainly fits into this picture.
My boss had an uncanny way of bringing me back to earth from my inflated opinion of myself. A few years ago there was an encounter that registered itself among the experiences of life, but needed to be recalled back, reclaimed.
My chest was bursting as I shared with him what happened, and how elated I was to be recognized.
"Aren't we wonderful," he said, and walked away.
It was a moment to forget, I thought in an instant.
A treasure throve of life's experiences gave birth to that memory as I read the words - "... I deserve attention."
Frankly, I admit to creating lots of madness in my own life, as I pursued ambition and praise. So, from time to time a lesson comes, and is also often forgotten in the fog of pursuing fleeting praise.
Bob Edwards, once an NPR radio host, remarked that what he did on the radio was not about him. He satisfies his ego by the very fact that he is on the radio already, he commented in conversation with another radio personality, Diane Rehm.
"I'm a minimalist. And in the show, you know, especially "Morning Edition," doing NPR news, it wasn't about me, it was about my guests," he told Rehm. "My guests were super so I wanted to hear more of them. You know, I had enough ego satisfaction just to be hosting the program. That did it for me. I didn't need to talk."
The wisdom others teach you, I reflected, as I listened to Edwards.
It's never easy to sober up from intoxication with one's ego. A question lingers on: How can one remain on an auto-pilot firmly set to being useful for the sake of goodness and for the sake of others? Just be, do good, and the meaning of it all will be with those who encounter your life?
This post stopped writing itself three days ago. Then, true to my enjoyment of twists and turns in life, I began writing its closing sentences. I got stuck in the process.
Then at one bend I took, a thought appeared. Stop! - it shouted at me. Let the piece write itself.
In an avalanche of verbiage, it is much useful to acknowledge those people in your life who disagreed with you. They are saying that you don't have all the answers. You are just as well not having them, either.
A masterpiece in life is decided in the encounter with others. They will tell you when they see it.
In the words of the Bible, “Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11 The Message
Strasbourg Cathedral, France