Our images in other people’s worlds

Photo by Min An from Pexels

There is something touching about the idea that people live in their own world, in which I belong as a constituent, a world different than mine (I am not a character in my own world, but I am a character in their worlds): the responsibility I have for all because I belong to their worlds (you can read here some musings on this issue). What I mean here is that I don’t have to listen to Tavi, to wait behind him in line at a supermarket, or to deal with him as my spouse or as a driver on the highway. All the other people with whom I interact (and I would claim that all other people in the world, but this is a discussion for another time) somehow need to “deal” with me, depending on the relations that are established between us. So I am responsible for their worlds. At the same time, it is not really “me” who belongs to their world, and this is due to the way in which people see their own lives; or to the way in which people take a bite of their own lives.

There is one more level, though, and I sometimes wonder about the responsibility I have for that level: how responsible am I for the image of Tavi that is created in the discourses other people have about me or about what I say? Consider this situation: Mary and Johnny have a discussion, and Johnny describes something I said, but this description is filtered by Johnny’s own emotions and interests. The result is that Mary is hurt by “my” comments. Am I responsible for Mary’s feelings?

The first response–and this is the response that the majority of my students would give–is that Johnny has responsibility for what he says. I have done nothing. First, the description of my words is out of context. Second, I have not intended to say something that could have harmed Mary. Thus, Johnny is exclusively responsible for any harm Mary may have suffered.

However, the reality is that the event involves me, regardless of whether I contribute to it voluntarily or not. My problem is not whether Johnny is responsible or not for what Johnny does; my problem is how I contribute to his life and, by consequence, to Mary’s life. The paradox is that I am responsible even if I have no control over it.

The prayer before communion

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first.

Of course, people hear “responsibility” and believe that this is a “moralist” approach. But the beauty of it is that it is not a moral responsibility, but rather the acknowledgement that I leave a trace in this life, for the good and for the bad. Regardless of my intentions, what I say or do can be interpreted, used, truncated. The point is, though, that I am an ingredient in this wonderful soup that is life (actually, this blog truly started with a text about this; you can read it here: the story about the death of a rabbit). And I cannot complain about its taste. As I was saying before, belonging to it makes me part of its beauty and of its ugliness; it makes me part of its taste. And since I participate in ugliness most of the time, regardless of whether I want it or not, I need forgiveness. It is not the moral or juridical forgiveness, but rather the curative one. If the world suffers and I am part of it, then the world and I need to be cured. 

Perhaps everything that happens to us is, if we read it well, another call to humility–one may say that this is the genuine condition of theosis. I cannot say it better than Anthony Bloom:

To me, humility is not what we often make of it: the sheepish way of trying to imagine that we are the worst of all and trying to convince others that our artificial ways of behaving show that we are aware of that. Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all the refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.[1]

And Mitya Karamazov comes to mind: “Gentlemen, we are all cruel, we are all monsters, we all cause suffering to people–to mothers and their infants–but, have it your way, I’m worse than anyone.”

Another paradox: this is an occasion for joy!


[1]Anthony Bloom. Beginning to Pray. Paulist Press, 1970, p. 35.

Cooking toward the unknown

Photo from the public domain: https://www.goodfreephotos.com/food/cooking-ingredients-with-avocado-mushrooms-eggs.jpg.php

A friend told me a story about how, in his youth, he and his family visited a lady. It was during lent. The lady went to the kitchen and started cooking the “Romanian way.” She took a pan, threw in some oil, and started frying some onion. “What are you making?” my friend’s sister asked her. “I don’t know yet,” the lady replied.

I find this cooking toward the unknown fascinating, especially because this is what life usually is. We are always “cooking” something toward the unknown, even when we “know” what we are doing and we follow a plan. In this case, however, I think it was a different kind of pursuing the unknown. It was not that the lady did not know what she was putting in her meal; it was rather that she was not making something that she has done before, so she could not exactly know the result. As it usually is the case during lent, you use whatever you have in the house for cooking. At times, those ingredients have not been together in a meal. So, although you know what you are using, you do not know what will come out of it. You only have a guess, according to how you may have used these ingredients previously.

But truly this is just like life. Every day throws at us different ingredients. And we use them to “cook” something with them. We have an idea about what may come out, but we haven’t lived the day previously, so, after all, we don’t know what will come out of it. Things get even more complicated because of the multitude of cooks. The point is, however, to go ahead and start cooking. Thrown some onions into a pot. Somehow, they will end up nourishing someone.

A Star is born: sanctuaries

Scene from A Star Is Born. Taken from their website: A Star Is Born.

I rarely react to a movie the way I have when I watched A Star Is Born. This is mainly because of one notion: sanctuary.

In fact, I heard some of the actors talking about this idea, that the director created a sanctuary in their midst, and so their creativity could express freely. Beyond the love story, the problems of dealing with addiction, and the various other aspects of the movie, I think that the one thing that keeps it together is the feeling you have when you are embraced without rest, without being asked whether you qualify or not for that embrace.

There are people who give you this feeling; they are oasis of rest in a world deserted of meaning. You’re broken, you do not know where to go, you think that everyone around you judges you and writes you off as something that you do not recognize yourself to be, and then, as in a miracle, one other human being tells you that you can rest your head in his or her palm. This being does not tell you that it’s okay how you are; he doesn’t validate you. He just loves you.

You may say that the main character, played by Bradley Cooper, does this for the young singer who had given up her dream, but I think the movie is more than that. I think it holds together because of the experience of sanctuary that seems so apparent in the actors, but also in you as you watch the movie. It is an atmosphere that is genuinely created and offered by Cooper, who’s also the director of the movie, and this gives you a longing for home. Strangely enough, even if you have nothing in common with the characters on the screen, the sanctuary that takes place there tells you that you are welcome as well.

The main character is a broken individual, one with addictions, who ends up tragically. This is the beauty of it: it does not matter where you are in life. You can always be an oasis for someone else. In fact, every moment of our existence calls upon us to be such people. And we can fail being so even if we believe we accept the others. One of the scenes that I love is when Lady Gaga’s character tells Bradley Cooper’s character that “it is okay.” It is the first time she visits him at the rehab. He had lost control over drinking and embarrassed her in one of the most important moments of her career. He cries, expressing remorse. “It’s okay,” she says. “You don’t embarrass me.” Still, it gives the impression of an empty okay. What you feel at that moment is that a broken individual, one who cries and who feels as the last man on earth, is the one who has already embraced the person who is supposed to forgive him. “It’s okay, it’s not your fault,” she says. And it sounds as if she accepts him. Even if he’s accepted, there’s no sanctuary for him. This is because it’s not about “it’s okay.” Things are not okay. The world is broken. After all, nobody is asking whether things are okay or not. They all just yearned for love, the creator of sanctuaries.

“I hope you’re still with me
When I’m not quite myself
And I pray that you’ll lift me
When you know I need help.”

Words from one of Lady Gaga’s songs for this movie.