Embracing distress with humility
Because I've been investing energy in happiness as a feminist goal, I'm attempting to find ways of filtering what I perceive as bad luck
We stood in front of the conveyor built on Tuesday morning at the Delhi airport preparing ourselves for the inevitable. Given the kind of luck we'd been having, there was an exceedingly high probability our baggage hadn't made the journey from Vienna. We had, because we are able-bodied. We had barely 20 minutes to transit between our incoming flight from Innsbruck to the outgoing one to New Delhi. We sprinted through the airport. I begged people in the immigration queue to let me skip to the front and somehow we found ourselves aboard our crowded flight back. Two days later, our baggage is yet to be delivered to us. We have Air India to thank for this. And yet, this hasn't been the most preoccupying problem. No, I'm still struggling to get my bank to return me the money that was skimmed from my account. I am still laptop-less, and my fingers feel an itch for the luxury of a typing mechanism, so much so I might fire up my typewriter, clean and oil it so that I can return to being on top of deadlines.
I've been trying to repress the niggling suspicion that I might be cursed. It's so tempting and so easy to fall into the trap of believing that there must be some causal link. My fiancé and I are both quite convinced that we must indeed be cursed or ill-fated. It doesn't deter us, though. Sometimes I feel an urge to seek refuge in some ceremonious gesture that'll lift this continuing streak of bad luck, some ritualistic mechanism that might offer the false security of feeling like I am once more in control of my destiny, that I am not as unmoored as I feel. However, from the fringes of my rational mind I hear voices of reason that remind me that in instances like these, one cannot appeal to the heavens for the privilege of an obstacle-less existence. Instead, we must, as Simone Weil suggests, ask for grace instead so that even while the shit is hitting the ceiling, we find within us, the fortitude to bear it all with dignity and elegance.
Maybe that is what it means to be an optimist, to not necessarily subscribe to the convenient logic that things happen for a reason, which makes the exercise of living one of resigning to the logos of the pre-ordained, but to constantly seek within moments of distress, opportunities to grow as a person, and to remind oneself not to lose sight of the woods for the trees, to see not just what isn't in bloom but that which is ever on the verge of becoming.
I've been reconsidering the very Catholic insistence on the virtue of humility. I've revisited it before through the principle of hermeneutical humility, a state of consciousness one must embody in the interpretation of form of scripture. I've begun to think about bureaucratic humility these days, how to embrace the state of helplessness one feels in dealing with forces outside of one's control, how not to be frustrated by the absurdities of contemporary existence, how to uncover humour in states of fragility, how not to lose one's cool, how not to slip into unkindness despite feeling victimised by the world. I'm re-examining my fraught relationship with the concept of humility.
Where, in my self-driven process of un-conditioning, I'd begun to read humility as an acceptance of the status quo, even a strategically oppressive methodology by which the church kept the faithful in check. I'm wondering now if instead of dismissing it altogether, I can reinvent what it could mean to me, especially as someone preoccupied with the subject of feminist agency.
Because I've been investing energy in happiness as a feminist goal, I'm attempting to find ways of filtering what I perceive as bad luck. There's much work to be done in such an interpretative quest, but I'm trying to practice new ways of exercising control over situations beyond my explicit domain of agency. But how to marry the notion of authorial authority when things don't seem to go your way? Do you become a spectator in the suspense-filled unfolding of your own life, or do you actively choose to make things happen, effect change despite the seeming impossibility of things changing. Can the imagination compensate for the failures of reality? Or should one just envisage bold new ways of looking at unattractive situations to unearth the silver linings nestled within? How to perform all of this while also feeling one's feelings, while being authentic to the emotions that are evoked in moments of trial and tribulation? How to keep replenishing one's sanity so as not to give in to the lure of exhaustion? Maybe the answer does lie in Weil's proposition about the twin notions of gravity and grace. I don't know, and I can't say. For the moment I am finding some strength in embracing the semantic structures of these uncertainties. They are the building blocks not only of humility but also of wonder and of potentially great imagining.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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