Saturday, 26 October 2013

When do we become who we are?

“Yes, once I was a hero but
The bombs began to fall…

"Posthumous Autobiography" by Vernon Scannell (Collected Poems; Faber and Faber)

At what point in our lives do we become ourselves? When are we the hero and when the villain? Scannell, in his wonderfully ambiguous poem (a poem that refuses to offer an easy answer), suggests to me that we can claim we are all “heroes” through our imagination and by our inaction. However, by doing something we risk and are then stripped of our ideal; the world intervenes to render us vulnerable, confused and scarred by life. We reach out, in vain, for some comfort in the hero we thought we were but we see we are in a muddled, random and painful world (when “the bombs began to fall”).

However, when we do engage with the world there is a possibility,

“when the storm enraged the grunting sea
into a foaming epileptic fit,"

that we find ourselves in our reactions and the process of replacing

“the captain on the howling bridge,
staring the tumult out”

and riding “safely home”. But not as a hero, as ourselves. We are our reaction to what knocks us down in life; we are the ones who find joy in the gaps between the falling bombs; we are the person who picks themselves up and stares out the world again; we are the resolve we show and the determination we have in seeing there is always something left to do in this life. There is immense value in the process of doing just one more thing. When we stop doing this, we can then say,

“once I was alive…”

When do we become who we are? We are ourselves at every step of the process of life.

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