Sunday, March 7, 2010

almost right

It's so close to being warm now. I'm sitting next to the sliding glass door in my living room with blinds drawn open and outside it is bright as can be, perfect day, all of that. And it's about sixty degrees which means it's nice but it's a few degrees short of being able to sit in it without having goosebumps when the air moves. And so here I am, the last hour or so spent reading Jeremiah and rereading The Four Loves.

When it's about this temperature and my car is parked in the sun, the inside feels perfect. My roommate thinks it's stifling, and it does tend to turn into something like a little oven, but I love that when it's cool enough outside to appreciate it. So yesterday I got in my car and drove to campus and parked under one of the live oaks in front of the intermural fields and, sky and grass through the windshield, light all dappled like water shining on my arms through the leaves, I read my book and pretended I was stretched out on a blanket under the sun.

It's so close now. Everyone's ready, it seems like. In conversation, in a few blogs, even. Practically, as soon as it's consistently warm I can start riding my bike places and won't have to be so worried about my car. And impractically, sentimentally, romantically (in the literary sense), I'm ready for it to be warm for the sake of it, so I can stand in it with my arms stretched out and wear skirts and write about restless Spring, everything opening up and moving around, all the commotion of new life.

I reread We the Living recently--I've been wanting to since the summer, and suddenly the missing book reappeared on my desk at work--and it makes me think of all this. Wanting something simply because you enjoy it. I've had several people tell me that Ayn Rand was so close to being right. I've always thought she was crazy and I've never really been able to ask those people to explain to me what they mean by 'almost right.' Honestly I'm not a very critical reader--I tend to do much better when people ask me questions, and so I could read a book twice through and miss all the big thematic points if not prompted. I don't like to admit that in literature classes--all the brilliant people to whom those things just jump right out are incredibly intimidating to me--but there you have it.

So, not having given it as much thought as I intend to, I'm not so sure yet how she nearly got it right. I think it does have something to do with wanting something only because you enjoy it, because it makes you happy. I'm wondering how this extends to the worth something has inherently. Is that a stretch? Or does she mean its worth is that it makes one happy? Or does it make her happy because it's good and it's good on its own? ''This is good because it makes me happy," or, "This makes me happy because it's good." I don't know. I feel like I could argue it either way within the context of the book, but I can say for sure that she means the value doesn't come out of usefulness to the 'collective,' and that its usefulness to oneself is all that matters.

I see how she's wrong. I think she'd hate everything I stand for. And I can see pieces of how she's right, but not how she's almost right. This is a conversation I really want to have, things I really want to think about, mull over. I know there are things that are good, that are really good, and I love them out of how that goodness affects me. Does that make sense? The sky and the air and a huge mountain or the ocean and the way it feels when the seasons are changing--creation, and how many times in Genesis 1 does it say 'and God saw that it was good?' Even 'very good.'

Do I love all of this because it's good or because of the reaction its goodness produces in me? Well, I don't love rain because it makes crops grow for poor African families. I love that it does, but it's not the reason I love it. I don't love the way the air feels for any reason except where it takes me, how it makes me think of God. If I look at a mountain, there is awe: it produces awe in me. It's true what C. S. Lewis said. These things give me meaning for words that mean everything to me.

I'm realizing that I'm either revealing an incredible amount of selfishness or a large lack of empathy. I know that things can be intrinsically good: they are good because God made them and he is good. And if I pretended to have this altruistic love that was rooted in only that altruism and had nothing to do with myself, I think you all would know I was lying. But immediately following creation, we see God seeing what he's made as good. I hope this logic isn't faulty, but before there are any people for the light to shine on or for, it is still considered good. And I think it's perfectly okay to like something for that reason. Are my own enjoyments that pure? I highly doubt it, but I think we can see glimpses of this nature of God in how a mountain that is of no particular use to us is mighty and good, and "it is this feeling which would make a man unwilling to deface a great picture even if he were the last man alive and himself about to die; which makes us glad of unspoiled forests that we shall never see..." And, "This judgment that the object is very good, this attention (almost homage) offered to it as a kind of debt, this wish that it should be and should continue being what it is even if we were never to enjoy it, can go out not only to things but to persons. When it is offered to a woman, we call it admiration; when to a man, hero-worship; when to God, worship simply." (both from The Four Loves)

And I think I might have just stumbled onto part of how Ayn Rand was almost right. This is exactly the sort of thing she writes about, only it's always projected toward a person. In We the Living, it's toward Leo, this hero-worship, this reverence. These are words she uses. He is like a god, she describes him this way. Things can be good simply because they are and they deserve our reverence, our worship even. Only her object wasn't God.

I will say that this time around, I didn't like the book as much. I almost didn't finish it. It's such a sad, frustrating book, and it made me want to throw it across the room several times toward the end. Still my favorite book? Probably. Particularly now, after having written all this out, trying to make some sense of it. Figuring out which way it points, and pointing those places toward God.

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