Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Jack Kamm 

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou

A friend of mine, a newly enlightened Buddhist, informed me that nobody is special…that in mind and spirit we’re all the same…that the individual “self” dissolves in the nectar of a collective humanity whose shared heart is depthless in its kindness.

          I see mankind a little differently, both in capacity and in morality.

          Parents say to their child, “What a special little girl you are!”  And she is special if for no other reason than she’s Daddy’s little girl…or Mommy’s little helper, or maybe because in the entire world she’s the only authentic version of herself.

The dictionary defines a special person as one distinguished by some unusual quality or being in some way superior or held in particular esteem. By contrast, the concept of equity erases human distinctions?

Should we re-populate our streets with Stepford Wives and ignore the kind of merit that makes one person different from another? To avoid hurt feelings, do we no longer declare somebody a winner—whether of a foot race or of a cooking contest or of a spelling bee?

There are winners and losers, as well, in moral behavior. I don’t profess to speak to how society should be but rather how its shape has formed my judgment. My Buddhist friend thinks that nobody is bad.  If so, then why do some people leave puppies on the highway or hijack cars or rob stores at gunpoint?  We cannot separate the deed from the person because if not for the person, there wouldn’t be the deed.

      Some of the most heinous deeds, which no amount of sugar can sweeten, have rattled the globe. Look at Hitler and Stalin and Nero and Ivan the Terrible and Pol Pot and Saddam and bin Laden and Mao Zedong and Idi Amin. These monsters alone have caused the death of over a 100 MILLION PEOPLE!

     Weren’t these killers special?  Bad?  Especially bad?

     Accordingly, those who live their lives with kindness are kind people. We are defined by who we are and what we do: not by a government or by an ideology that tells us how to behave or by a spirituality blind to human blemish.

      I’ve never sought a moral compass in the Bible although I have read the pages—in particular Ecclesiastes, which sees a time for everything. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.  Accordingly, a time to kill and a time not to kill. A time to weep and a time to laugh. Brimming with common sense, this wisdom can illuminate the moral maze too often hidden in the midnight of a misguided culture.

     In this light, contrary to the urging of the Bible or of my Buddhist friend, I can never love my enemy as myself. Such befriending would be foolish and masochistic.  As somebody who believes in living a decent life, I can never hold the hand of a neighbor who rapes women or who beheads a child or who incinerates a gay man or a father who “Honor Kills” his daughter because she kissed a stranger.  

       The existence of good and evil, success and failure—realities that set people apart from one another—for me prompts the question: what is one’s purpose on earth, if there’s a purpose at all? Some people see their birth as the perpetuation of Nature’s command to reproduce.  Others believe that they’re put on earth to heal the sick.

My purpose, as I see it, is not a lofty one.  Nor is it festooned with mystique or preordination.  My purpose is to bear witness to the passage of time and, in that passage, to find value in every new second given to me.  Am I obligated to climb to my highest self?  Without hurting anybody in that climb, do I seek only pleasure, whether physical or mental or emotional—or do I sacrifice some of my needs for the greater good?

         How one answers these questions—how one acts on one’s decisions—determines his or her specialness. In a single day our decisions battle the existential gusts that try to dislodge us from the most tenuous of strongholds. In this sense, our specialness is tested by how tenaciously we cling to that stronghold or, if we’re shoved off, how fast we get that foothold back. It’s harder to regain our balance after losing it than it is to keep it once we have it.  

     Accordingly, perhaps only special people win the war between equilibrium and chaos. Perhaps only the most special among us know how to keep our hand steady enough to water the gardens of our own potential…who know how to find the richest of soils in which to grow our talent.

 How else can we account for genius? For people like Bezos and Jobs and Harun al-Rashid, Curie and Einstein and Goodall and Salk and Beethoven and Monet and King and Angelou and Szymborska and Jesus and Siddhartha Gautama…to cite just a sprinkling of special individuals whose accomplishments have hoisted us, all of mankind, light-years above the prehistoric fires of the Caveman.


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