I have been pondering what I wrote about rejection. In that essay I made the implication that everyone around me was part of a whole which for some inexplicable reason had rejected me. After I wrote it, however, I took a close look around and I realized that I was wrong. It was not that I was an outsider surrounded by insiders. We are all outsiders. All of us.
There exists some sort of artificial construct that we have deemed a nation, and as far as it goes we are all a part of it. But what does that mean? Who really feels that they are perfectly content, that they have found their place? Who does not strive for more? Who does not feel inadequate, imperfect, unfulfilled? I won’t deny that there may be a few such creatures in this country, in the world – those who have somehow overcome the need to strive for something better. But they are not you and I.
Let’s take politicians, for example, since this is an election year and the warriors are casting epithets back and forth. Are politicians more noble, more truthful, more patriotic than the rest of us? The idea is laughable, now that information has become more easily available and more and more of the seemingly irreproachable have bit the dust. Politicians are not better or worse than the rest of us; they are just more exposed. They have set themselves up to be taken down. And the problem is not that they are imperfect. The problem is that for so long they tried to pretend that they were not, that they were somehow the knights in burnished armor who would rescue us from chaos, insecurity, poverty, internal enemies, and the foreign horde. There is nobility and courage and virtue to be found even in those who would take up the reins of power, but we must not deceive ourselves that they are anything but flawed. They too, are outsiders. Perhaps they were ridiculed by the school bully. Perhaps they got so horny they committed sexual indiscretions. Perhaps in their pursuit for power they ignored and alienated their children. Then they begin to become successful in their chosen profession, their vocation, and all the dirt gets dug up. It’s inevitable in this day and age. And all the hard work, all the sacrifices, all the cover-ups to attain to the center of the circle are in vain. But oh the horror when a public figure is exposed as an outsider! The problem lies in thinking that there is ever any alternative.
A nation, however, is a highly abstract concept compared to other constructions of which we feel ourselves, or long to feel, a part. One of the most basic units, of course, is the family. Most people have such an entity to which to belong, and they strive to keep that connection throughout their lives with varying degrees of success. Some, such as those abandoned or put up for adoption at birth, never seem to have a chance; but even these often create tightly-knit bonds, because it must be understood that a family is as much a psychic or spiritual concept as a physical one. Then there are schools. What pits they are of desperate, agonizing struggles for recognition, for acceptance, for places in this or that circle that one might not be left out in the cold! And work. Do they speak to you or hush up and shy away at the water cooler? And places of religious worship. Are you considered one of the virtuous or one of the pitied fallen ones? These are just the crassest of examples. So many aspects of life alienate one human being from another it is impossible to list them all: gender, age, race, financial status – the list could go on and on.
So I look around me and I see outsiders. A nation, a whole world of outsiders. Nobody is inside and has found peace. Nobody has arrived. So when I complained in my last essay on rejection that I was a lone outsider in what sense did I mean it? In the most relative. I can’t find a job. Many people, however, can’t find jobs in this country. In that sense I am not alone; I am a part of a community – the community of the unemployed. I am poor. Statistically, most of the people in the world are poor. In other words, we are all aggregates of continuing struggles to belong in disparate social constructs, some of stronger cohesion than others.
I’m getting too technical here, trying to explain that which is inexplicable. The main thing I want to say is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time comparing myself unfavorably with others who in fact are no better off, and in many cases are probably worse off, than I am. Nobody has attained the American Dream – whatever that is, or whatever people think of when they use the phrase. The American Dream is, in fact, a delusion. Henry Miller called it the air-conditioned nightmare in the book of the same name, though I have to admit that that book was a disappointment, and he delved much deeper into an analysis of what he meant in his earlier works, in which he grapples with the reasons he left America in the first place.
I too left America long ago. Did I imagine that in the decades I have been gone it would somehow heal itself of all its ills and present itself as that which our forefathers dreamed of, that which it should have been all along? Did I not expect to become aware of the decay, the despair, the cobwebs in the corner? And not just cobwebs, no. Venomous spiders wait in the wings to spring upon the unwary, the trapped, the helpless. This is true in other parts of the world as well, but as I have said before, where there is great good, there is also great evil. The freedom that Americans prize so highly has enabled wickedness to prosper as well as virtue.
But I have wandered far from my theme, far from where I began this essay. We are all outsiders. That is the human condition. It’s just that when things go well we are anesthetized to the fact, whereas when things are tough the point is driven home to us.
Yes, we are all outsiders. In this, at least, we are united.