Saturday, November 21, 2009

What am I becoming?

George Eliot was a brilliant author in many ways. She understood people, how they shape and are shaped by society, the hundreds of little influences that affect decisions and alter character. She understood human flaws and human triumphs, people's ideals and limitations, their hopes and secret pains, moments of illumination and stubborn blindness.

I read Middlemarch several years ago and had jotted down passages that struck me, that I knew I'd want to revisit and think about. One of them is the following:

We are on a perilous margin when we begin to look passively at our future selves, and see our own figures led with dull consent into insipid misdoing and shabby achievement. – Chapter 79, Sunset and Sunrise

Eliot writes that specter well - one's own future self, a drab and gray figure sacrificed piece by piece, over the course of years, to mediocrity. A seemingly painless sacrifice, committed for the sake of comfort and approval and to appease one's gnawing fear of failure. And so instead of imagining our best selves and struggling towards that, we give up, we go slack, we pretend that the the virtues, values and gifts that we cherished aren't that important after all.

Guard against the impulse to let yourself slip away, to allow yourself to slip along without effort or imagination. It might be tempting to tell yourself that it's no use anyway, that what you do isn't of any consequence; yet everything we do - or don't do - has a consequence for ourselves, for others, for the world, even if we can't understand the full extent of it.

Even when life and its pressures seem overwhelming, don't lose sight of yourself and what you hope to be.