This mirror sure can look me in the eye

o bálsamo do desilusão/The Balm of Disappointment (Disillusion) – from Night Train to Lisbon (Pascal Mercier)

Disappointment is considered bad. A thoughtless prejudice. How, if not through disappointment, should we discover what we have expected and hoped for? And where, if not in this discovery, should self-knowledge lie? So, how could one gain clarity about oneself without disappointment?

We shouldn’t suffer disappointment sighing at something our lives would be better without. We should seek it, track it down, collect it. Why am I disappointed that the adored actors of my youth all now show signs of age and decay? What does disappointment teach me about how little success is worth?

I had a friend who died recently at the age of 94. She lived her life fully up through her time of passing. When she was about 92, I remember her telling me that she had found another fault with herself, and she was both disappointed and happy at the same time.

She had decided years before that a fearless inventory of her faults was her only way to live. She treasured each difficulty as a stepping stone on her progress toward perfection, while at the same time she never claimed to be perfect nor did she ever expect she would reach perfection.

One who would really like to know himself would have to be a reckless, fanatical collector of disappointments, and seeking disappointing experiences must be like an addiction, the all-determining addiction of his life, for it would stand so clearly before his eyes that disappointment is not a hot, destroying poision, but rather a cool, calming balm that opens our eyes to the real contours of ourselves.

Like my friend, I continue my own self-examination, and seem to have no end of things to find. Ha! I often laugh at loud at my foibles and persistency of my faults. Even bringing them to light doesn’t seem to automatically dispel them, although a little light and fresh air helps.

Even funnier to me, others in my life seem ever at the ready to point out my faults and shortcomings. Family members know me too well perhaps, and relationships really are the express train to me learning about my disappointments and illusions. Although it seems funny and ironic now, other times it is so challenging I find myself withdrawing. I know that doesn’t ultimately help me.

One would have the hope that he would become real by reducing expectations, shrink to a hard, reliable core and thus be immune to the pain and disappointment. But how would it be to live a life that banished every long, bold expectation, a life where there were only banal expectations like “the bus is coming”?

Avoiding life is not living. Let’s all take these steps together towards a clearer, fuller life.

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