What It’s Worth: Living Life Well

A most-valued student once gave me one of the highest compliments I have ever received: “Professor Casil, you’re so humble.”

I thought about that for days. I still think about it.

The young woman who said it, was herself, very humble, hard-working, kind and loving. Like many of my students, she had a full-time job, was attending school full-time, and caring for family members who were ill.

So the New York Times has paid to promote an article by David Brooks writing above and beyond himself. Brooks discusses the difference between being a fully-realized human being (the ones he says he meets about once a month — and he lives in one of the world’s largest cities) and being the person most of us are. Most of us don’t really live in the moment; we are seldom fully-present. Perhaps we are ever looking over someone’s shoulder to see the next person who will be more “important” than the one we’re talking to — now.

Something has happened to me over the past few weeks. Brooks discusses the transformative power of genuine love. I’ve had this — I have it still. I never thought I would have such love, though I felt overpowering love for Lali (Anthony). Unconditional love for Meredith. When I knew it was likely that Lali would be born with Down Syndrome, it was a kind of bridge. My heart went over to him and I fully-embraced that I would spend the rest of my life caring for him, making sure he was safe, making sure he would be the best he could be. And then he died. One of the only things that kept me going was the thought that his life should not have had no meaning. I knew he was given to us for such a short time for a reason; I’m still not a hundred percent certain what that was, but I know it’s got something to do with what David Brooks is writing about, what Carl Rogers spent his life uncovering: becoming fully-human.

Do listen to this (Undiscovered Colors, Flashbulb).

Brooks points out that growth occurs when we admit our weaknesses. How I have clung to my underdog status. How I have treasured feeling different from others. They all have husbands or wives who love and support them. They all have friends who care about them, not just use them. They don’t have to fight and scratch and claw and strive for the least thing. They weren’t born an orphan, they weren’t abused, they weren’t beaten and raped. They didn’t have a sub-literate maniac accuse them of murdering the person they loved the most in the whole world on the internet.

It did happen during the Writers of the Future ceremony. During my time, terrible things happened to me. One year, my beloved uncle died. Alan’s kids disrupted that ceremony. A very bad event (of the special type that happen to me) destroyed any enjoyment I may have had another year. I was never able to participate fully in the workshop. I was working too hard. One year, I drove back and forth daily. I went to the ceremony by myself.

Last year at the 30th Anniversary, I took Meredith and Kiele, who were immediately singled out as my 6′ + “Amazon daughters.” This was wonderful, and they had a great time. But I was overwhelmed by this feeling of sadness, longing and yes — resentment — as every single winner got up and thanked their families. Parents, thank you so for your support. Well mine have been gone for years and the one I had, I barely survived. Husbands and wives, thank you for your support. This is the 5:00 to 7:00 every morning writer, so I could get Meredith off to school. Friends, thank you for your support. Well, I did have that. But when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, the blessings we do have become tiny and our injuries and hurts so very large. Yes, I was very happy for the winners and extremely proud of them, but at the same time (I’m different from you. Worse. Nothing good ever happens to me.)

So this past year, not only did I not feel alone hearing the proud and thrilled winners, I felt …

Kinship

With the winners. At last. Kinship.

I can do this thing, I thought. We can do it.

I wrote in large part because of all those underdog things. I wrote because I was forbidden to speak as a child, unless I followed a careful script and performed complicated behaviors as desired. I learned to please others in ways so ancient and deep that I often am uncertain from where they come, whether or not they are “me” or they are some long-ago Amy, some long-ago Sterling, or farther back, other names, other places, other times. I felt this massive thing inside of me, often not me at all, that must get out.

And now that’s gone. It’s not about me, it’s about we. It’s about everyone. David Brooks shouldn’t encounter fully-realized humans once a month. He should encounter them every day. We should all encounter them every day.

We were talking about 9–11, we were talking about Baltimore. These things wouldn’t happen in a world with more fully-human people. Oh, I still cling to my special status as a wounded warrior. My skills are needed, I think, in this process — skills forged and honed in the fire of the culture of abuse,

I understand how the people feel in the streets of Baltimore. I understand the young students who are afraid and whose schools are closed. I understand the “thugs” who are taking advantage of the situation to make some money, have some brutal fun, and get some of their own back. I understand the people whose only way to be heard is to set buildings on fire and rampage through the streets. People who have never had the opportunity to enjoy the things others take for granted have ever-burning inner reservoirs of rage that is liable to simmer up and explode, just as Langston Hughes said. Students are flogged through his poetry, understanding little of it; it isn’t real to them. It wouldn’t become real unless they’d been themselves, ignored, abused, downgraded, disrespected, at all kinds of risk the “other” has avoided. We have millions in this country right now who’ve experienced far worse than nearly all of the Baltimore “thugs” have, and none of them are rampaging through the streets. They’re in school, studying. They’re at work, working. They’re with their families, enjoying the gifts of life.

That’s because they understand the things David Brooks is working out in his article. They understand it’s not about them, it’s about we. And it’s not about things or money or fame: the cake is a lie. It’s about learning to live. It’s about being fully-human.

Originally published at www.amysterlingcasil.com on April 30, 2015.

According to Harlan Ellison and my grandmother, “You’ll go far Amy, because you have heart.” Author of 40 books, former exec., Nebula Award nominee, Poor.

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