Who Cares About Your Lonely Soul

Famous words from the musical Les Miserables, from Enjolras, leader of the student revolution.

One of my dearest friends calls me Enjolras – or Enjy, or N, whichever she feels like using. I, in return, call her Grantaire, or more frequently the nickname Victor Hugo gives to him, R. The names are not lightly chosen, especially mine. The lines in the title especially fit.

“Who cares about your lonely soul/We strive towards a larger goal/Our little lives don’t count at all!”

I like to think that I’ve matured since I first heard those words – I know now that it is only my lonely soul that I can put aside for a larger goal, making it not count, because it is only me who can make that choice for myself. But the line still rings fiercely true.

I have no idea how long ago it was, but we had stairs so maybe I was around ten or younger, when I decided to stick up for myself and disobey Mom. Wow, I rebelled early. Well, I did. I was insufferable from ten to fourteen and managed to sidestep most of the rest of the teenage rebellious years, before starting up again around twenty.

At that time, Mom had a project for my twin and I: we were to memorize a chapter of the Bible, every week or so. At least more than once a month. And I didn’t want to. My memories on why not are pretty vague…however, my twin was always able to memorize first and say it back straight, so that may have influenced my decision. Like KIM Won in The Heirs, I reach for the highest place in the world. Simply because if I’m not there yet, then there’s more that I need to do that I have not yet done. In a negative sense, I may not reach for what I don’t think I can win in. Especially where my twin is involved.

So I sat on the steps and told Mom that I wouldn’t ¬†memorize that Bible chapter, or any other. I still don’t know how I got the guts to do so. Silent disobedience or stubborn refusal never occurred to me – I tackled authority head-on.

Mom lowered herself so that she could look straight into my eyes. No looming over me, no anger, no yelling or whatever. I still remember her face, the brown of her eyes. “You will,” she said. “I won’t,” I said. I actually didn’t understand why that’s all she said. I expected to be reasoned with, not flat-out contradicted. “You will,” she said. “I won’t,” I said. Fear was not a factor here – nor was Anger. However, Will was. My Will to refuse was way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way, way weaker than hers to insist. So after her last, “You will,” I refused to answer. But I did it.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting that when it comes to authority in the world, even between friends, there are myriad kinds, but it the end, the way I see it, is that it comes down to Will. If my Will to resist is stronger than my Will to maintain physical security, then I will resist at the risk of bodily harm. There are, of course, trigger points for weights of Will. If one thinks about it like a balancing scale for Will, then that is how decisions tend to be chosen – whichever has the higher weight of Will is followed. Social acceptability, for example, vis-a-vis speaking or acting without thought of social response, is a question of weight of Will. And it does not reflect negatively on anyone where their weight of Will lies, because it is ultimately their decision.

The story, however, does not end there. After I memorized the Bible chapter and said it back to Mom, I expected praise, maybe, or a bit of special treatment for doing the right thing and obeying. A pat on the head? Chocolate? Something. Anything. It would make me feel good about myself for obeying. But no, it was business as usual. The verbal dissent to the order did not even come up in conversation, then or ever after. It was like it had never happened.

“Who cares about your lonely soul/We strive towards a larger goal/Our little lives don’t count at all!”

I’m more than a little certain that that attitude stems at least partly from that memory. When you have done what you are supposed to do, there is no praise, there is no celebration. Because all you did was what was expected of you: your Duty. I hold myself to that, as much as I can. I try not to hold others to it, but I don’t always succeed. But at least, for myself…I tend to find actual joy in doing my Duty correctly and well. This is because I’m not only a rebel bred and born, but I like things complicated. It is rebellion to choose to do a Duty correctly and well without any thought of praise, disinterestedly. It is complicated to figure out how to do a Duty correctly and well. So, as much as I can, this is what I choose.

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