A Slowly Kindled Light

An old diary entry, probably from April:

“You don’t have to be nice all of the time.”

I was Crash who said it. I don’t remember when; I dont’ remember what I said to prompt it. I just remember his voice saying it, and the force with which the answer rose from within me: Yes I do! Yes I do, or I might forget.”

I didn’t say it, though. I didn’t know him well enough at the time, and even now I don’t know if I would have. No point ruining a cheerful moment, and I suppose it would be a bit selfish – kind of making it all about me, and forcing everyone to deal with my issues without any warning. Not very fair.

I wanted to. It didn’t just rise up within me; it boiled up, scalding and bubbling and fluidly unstoppable. It’s been a part of me for so long, the knowledge that I have to be nice, that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’m not sure why it erupted just then, so violent and anguished. Perhaps because I’d started daring to believe that with them, I wouldn’t have to. Perhaps it was before I dared believe it. I don’t remember when it was, so it’s hard to say.

When seeking a name for my recent troubles, I once called them ‘a crisis of identity’. That’s not what they are, but it’s a decent name. In a way, what’s been happening has forced me to reevaluate the way I view myself. I don’t know if I’ve changed a lot, or if I’ve changed a little but only now noticed changes that have been happening for years; one way or another, I have to redefine the way I build my relationships and the way I protect myself.

A few weeks ago – maybe less – all this got me thinking about the last time I had what could be called a crisis of identity. At first it was just for comparison: “I haven’t been this confused and upset since I was twelve!” (Later, “I haven’t been this upset since I was twelve, and now I have even more in my head confusing me.”) But then (I should have seen it coming), I started worrying about the things that worried me then.

Or, well, not quite. Some of it really is settled and done. Back then I’d decided – or come to believe – or something like that – that all people are born with a certain amount of good and evil in their souls and, based on evidence, been forced to conclude that I was born more dark than light. By nature I am selfish, proud, vain, condescending, inconsiderate, egotistical, lazy, irresponsible, forgetful (even when it’s important), suspicious, bossy, unforgiving, arrogant, and apt to think that everyone should adapt to me, especially when I am having problems. This is not indicative of an abundance of goodness, and well I knew it (and still do). Indeed, a lot of the anguish and confusion I was feeling at the time left me when I finally admitted it to myself: I am not, by nature, a good person.

I don’t remember how I came to the next conclusion, the one that eventually saved me: I may not have been born bright, but I can strengthen the light within me. Nurture it gently, teach it to shine, hold back the darkness with all of my might. One thing I do remember clearly is a day on which I was walking a lap for P.E. and musing on this. I was disturbed by the realizations I was only just coming to. I was thinking on Septimus Heap – I don’t remember the connection exactly – and on how, if I hadn’t been raised by the family I have, I could easily have turned into a terrible person. I have the potential for good, which they have managed to bring out in me, but I have the predisposition to be very, very bad.

I distinctly remember the thought, curling through my mind, wrapped ’round a story as so many of my thoughts were (and sometimes still are).  I remember the frightening and inescapable weight of it. How hard it was to face.

I don’t remember any attempt to run away from it – I think once it had manifested itself so clearly in my conscious mind, I could never pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t remember it even being an option. I suppose the weight of its inevitability was so great that I knew it was true.  All evidence backed it, and so did my gut feeling. It hurt and it scared me, but it was true.

So I was born dark. Undeniably, irrefutably. Fine. I didn’t have to stay dark. If my family had changed me this much, then they would likely continue to do so, and I could further the process myself. I knew what I wanted to be: good. I had read enough books to know what that meant: compassionate, respectful, selfless, understanding, not a burden to others, and appreciative of the abilities of everyone. All I had to do, then, was work at it.

I did. It was hard. No surprise there, really.

I had to keep a tight clamp on any feelings of superiority, which half of my erstwhile classmates were making rather difficult. The real problem, though, was my mom, who had responded to all of their teasing by, basically, telling me I was awesome. When she realized how sarcastically I received this praise, or perhaps for some other reason that I just dont’ know, she started telling me in earnest that I am smarter than most people my age. More intelligent. A better brain, or at least more efficiently used. And all this while I was trying to be a better person and not look down on anyone.

I eventually realized/decided that I might be more intelligent than most, but that didn’t make me better because everyone had some talent or skill at which they excelled – everyone was better than me in some way, so it was okay for me to be better than them in this way. And besides, ‘most’ didn’t mean ‘everyone’. There were and are plenty of people at least as intelligent as I am and often more; if I kept that in mind, it kept me humble.

I learned to keep down my darker tendencies; to be constantly in control. Sometimes I would start feeling comfortable around someone and forget. Luckily, I only felt that comfortable around people I liked and respected, so I was never (as far as I know) accidentally nasty to someone; but sometimes I would catch myself being condescending, and sometimes I’d notice some deeply selfish thing I was doing or assuming or saying and not know how to stop myself.

Time is the greatest teacher. I eventually figured it out. I learned to think of others, to not say anything unless I was sure it was safe, and to not look down on people. I’m far from perfect, though. I still act selfishly, even if I’ve learned to think more kindly. I recently discovered that the reason I think so well of everyone is that I just don’t hold them to the same standards as I hold myself. That is hardly non-condescending, and it limits my pool of friends back to what it’s always been, because I can’t truly be friends with someone I hold to lower standards than myself.

This doesn’t actually bother me too much, even if it should, so I’ll deal with it when I’m not so preoccupied with so many other things. But it is proof positive that I’m not as good a person even as I thought I was. I have to keep at it.

So until I’ve become good, or until I’ve found another way I want to be, or maybe forever – God, I hope not forever – then yes, I do have to be nice all the time.

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