The existential quasi-crisis in which I find myself these days has me trying to get back to essentials. It’s so easy, over a half century of life, to acquire all manner of “stuff.” In my case, much of this stuff comes in the form of dead trees: papers, notebooks (I probably have in my possession a couple of dozen Moleskin notebooks, some empty, some partially filled, some packed with my odd scrawl), sketchpads, folders and binders fat with loose-leaf paper, and, of course, book after book after book on the shelves of my office, on the shelves at home, stacked on my desk, and a few gathered in cardboard boxes or sitting in plastic storage tubs. Some of the writing goes back as far as my 8th grade religion class; I still have books I purchased, through the Scholastic Book Club, as an elementary school student. I cling to these pages and words of mine, have lugged them around for decades now. I have this sense that I might need them, but I don’t know for what.
All of which makes me wonder whether the biggest burden I must jettison as I try to get back to basics might be my idea of “need” itself. I spend most of my time certain that when I have what I need, it will comfort me. And whatever disquiet I feel exists, I tell myself, because I don’t have what I need to silence it: more time, more money, more security, more support, more acceptance,more self esteem, more more more.
Conveniently enough, since I am unlikely to get all the things I think I need, I can always use that as my reason for not making of myself what I could. “If only I could get my needs fulfilled,” I can say, “oh, then you’d see a different person.” This also allows me to nurse resentments against the people in my life for not giving me what I need and therefore keeping me from living the life I should live. The life I deserve. The life, even, that we all deserve.
Now don’t worry; this isn’t my Ayn Rand moment. I don’t believe that the world would be a better place if we operated as self-sufficient, self-interested, atomized beings, wanting no one, needing no one. I think we become our best selves in the live circuit of interaction with one another. Other people can sometimes call forth from us things that we didn’t know we had in ourselves, and we can offer each other insights that others might not come to on their own. We each have limits, but I’m beginning to recognize the necessity for me to do for myself what I can.
I’ll be honest: I’m a little nervous about where this might lead. Isn’t part of the point of having a partner and having friends so that they can give you things you need sometimes? Isn’t there a danger in turning into the solitary man or woman who has “done it all on my own”? And who, by extension, no longer has compassion for those could use come kindness and care, for those who need someone to fight for them? Don’t we need, sometimes, to fight for each other?
I think the answer to those questions is, yes. But I also think the time has come for me to get more “essential” about what “need” means to me. It’s good for me to think about what I need. But maybe my best focus should first be on what I need…to do.
So what do you think you need most to become who you want to become?