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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Human Really Being

Perspective. One of the great gifts of being human is having perspective. You can think of this in a number of ways. The artist's use of perspective. The out-of-work banker's sense of perspective. The coach's perspective at half-time. And then there is perspective that we lend to every circumstance and situation in which we find ourselves. Put another way, we compare, use analogy, size up our mess by putting it alongside that of another. It is a sanity saver. Perspective. Consideration of one thing in relation to another. To be human is to have a sense of perspective. We do well to use it often and carefully. In the months after the declaration of martial law in Poland I was somehow able to talk and otherwise communicate with a number of friends for whom the shock of betrayal and disorientation had not yet worn off. In extreme situations, most of us manage to function at least partly, part of the time. We can drag ourselves out to the grocer, to care for children or parents, to meet basic obligations. But there is yet a sense of confusion, a haze, a wariness that does not soon wear off. So it was for those with whom I spoke. High-functioning, prominent and responsible men and women felt themselves at sea. Unsure, unconfident, and "so cynical I can't keep up." Yet. And yet. They went on. They taught their classes. They administered their bureaus, they carried out their research. They bathed and fed their children. They even went to the cafe, and to official functions in, if I remember it right, pajamas, and made fun of the whole sorry mess. What I want to tell you is that I was amazed at how resilient, determined, clever and energetic they were. They were. All of those things. Resilient, sassy (remember the description at the top of the blog!), creative, wily, courageous. It was impossible not to be impressed. Even with the bouts of depression and, as I described it yesterday, feeling "frozen," it was obvious from the start, these powerful demonstrations of will and wit and wisdom. But I was not amazed. That's the point I want to offer tonight. I didn't then realize how much it took, to be so strong, to get up and keep going. To be resilient and sassy and clever and creative. I took it for granted. I had no personal perspective from which to measure or evaluate their actions. When I sat, finally, with friends who described to me their emotional, very personal reactions to the initial declaration of war: the first frozen days, the biting cynicism that seemed frighteningly bottomless, the sense of life breaking in half, breaking down, the despair, I was profoundly moved. I assumed I understood the depths of their despair. I realized later, and much humbled, that I had not a clue, not really. And I assumed I understood also what it took, what it meant for them to express their courage and will, to enact this resilience that so attracted me. I had no idea. Until many years later. As I've already indicated in earlier posts. Perspective. The oddly wonderful human capacity to look at one situation and say, "you know, I remember something like this. I'm going to see if I can learn something from it." One good look at my last name -- Erickson or Erickson-Pearson -- and you can be pretty sure I'm not interested in Poland because it's in my blood. No, I'm drawn to Poland, as I've noted before, because it teaches me. The daring and sometimes darling creativity, sassiness and, here we go again: resilience of the Poles, is a perspective that continues to inspire me. And this reminds me, I need a nice pair of pajamas.