A shameful, embarrassing approach to life

THURSDAY, 26 JANUARY 2006

20:13

Fear of embarrassment: the large, hidden cause for a certain approach to life that I have never been able to shake. I have always thought if you reach your dying moment, and five minutes earlier you were still jumping around laughing in joy that you were still alive, how embarrassed you would feel in that final moment before you breathe your last breath. Imagine how silly, how stupid you would feel! Almost as if you’d like to say to the Angel of Death, “I am sorry I was so frivolous just five minutes ago … if I had known … and I should have known! If I had just considered the possibility at that moment that I could be uttering my final words in five minutes’ time … I would have been so much more solemn and sincere! I wouldn’t have made jokes or listened to such upbeat music! In fact, I disrespected Death by being so frivolous! Now look at me! I feel so terribly ashamed!”

So then you are serious all the time. Or if not all the time, you make sure you think about death often enough, and about terrible things that can happen, and about all the situations that could bring you trouble if you are not careful, so that when you do get into a difficult spot, or worse, if you’re staring Death in the face, at least you don’t have to be embarrassed. So that no one, least of all yourself, can say at that final moment, “Yes, and to think you were having such a good laugh just moments ago!” Or, “Just the other day you were so happy. How silly you look now!”

Fear of embarrassment – how many carefree days, how much happiness do I not sacrifice on the altar of this fear?

* * *

What, just by the way, is fear of embarrassment? What is shame? Is it not to be exposed for what you are – naked, small, vulnerable, frightened, and at the end, mortal, like a plant or an insect? This despite our best efforts to make ourselves appear better and more sophisticated than plants or insects or other animals.

“Are we not more important than plants or insects?” you might ask.

Of course we are, many would argue. But at what point does More Important Than A Plant Or An Insect become our demise? At what point do pride and self-love become the causes of our primal fear to be uncovered?

In the end: What are we? What is our real value? How is it measured? And is one last moment of shameless recognition of our mortality worth the effort to avoid a careless moment of being slightly too joyous?

20:43

As if you will fall even further when Death and Misfortune hit you while you tried to worry a little less and be a little happier, and every so often succeeded.

But keep struggling, stay poor, keep wallowing in the dirt … at least you won’t have far to fall.

And dream! Yes, dream of lots of money and happy times and doing whatever you want! Dreams are cheap! Dreams don’t matter! As long as you don’t ever go so far as to work hard enough to turn your dreams into reality, because once you really have a lot of money, once you see how nice it is … that days go by that you don’t worry about a thing, when you can travel and visit interesting places and spend time with family and do things you enjoy … you’ll climb higher and higher … and you’ll have so much further to fall.

Twenty years ago I would have thought God would look at me with anger in his eyes if I aim to climb too high. Now it is Death and Misfortune. And you have to respect them. “Stay low,” you tell yourself. “Struggle. Keep dreaming, though. It doesn’t matter after all …”

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