Midlife crisis: the first stirrings of a real awareness of human mortality. Somewhere in our thirties the fact of death, individual and intimate, begins to become a clear reality for us. In youth the same intuition comes only in a few ways: in war, with premature disease, through deep religious feeling.... If it's too severe to say that up to the moment of that intuition life is mere frivolity, it's nonetheless fair to say that it lacks mass. It is a matter of some curiosity that our culture seems only recently to have chosen to make of this particular crisis of awareness a standardized rite of passage.
I wonder if I feel compelled any longer to search for something, anything, that I can truthfully call substantial. It seems to me that I felt such a compulsion once, perhaps when I was much younger, perhaps as recently as last week. Living under necessity has detuned me. Often it seems to me that I can no longer think, that whatever thoughtstuff I have available is spent entirely in the exercise of a domestic routine. I admit offhand the obvious: domestic routine patiently nurtured becomes domestic virtue and so transformed is reward by nature. Good sense affirms this and I will not doubt it. But that such patient virtue is the crowning achievement of human struggle some intuition, stirred perhaps by minor devils and by deities deposed, rails against, and I take warning. This thoughtlessness is lifelessness.
We must have our saints. We live in the shelter of their imperfections.
We constantly face new terrors. Even in our most peaceful moments, the catalogue of our fears is ever expanding. Condemned to deal with a reality preternaturally out of scale, we find ourselves divorced from our own bodies, the only place where anything even remotely like morality can be rooted.
I can't remember my father's ever passing me without saying something to me, or tickling me, or mussing my hair, or inquiring about my health, or dragging me to the floor to wrestle. He seemed compelled to touch me somehow, in body or in spirit, which I relished in my childhood, wondered about in my youth, repulsed in my adolescence, feared having lost in my maturity.
Is it true that all this is the result of rebellion only, the fruit of hard headedness? Can it be true that there is no way to commit to reconciliation other than at last to collapse entirely into conformity with a world we had hoped as youths that we would outgrow?
To be understood at all, America must be understood morally. At its structural root, America is designed to encourage the free operation of moral principles, that is, to foster the exercise of natural moral understanding. America prospers as her moral integrity flourishes; America declines as her moral integrity declines. In the fundamental recesses of the soul, at that level at which he understands beyond the possibility of articulation, the American is a moralist. Intuitively he understands not only that he is capable of nothing but moral judgments but also that his very existence therefore compels him to make them. This compulsion of necessity demands "discrimination," a word thoughtlessly anathematized in the murk of the current social lexicon --- an unfortunate circumstance that works to confuse his innate moral sense, restricting the scope of its operation to the merely juridical. Hence his emphasis, short-sighted and pharisaic, on fact.
It requires but little elaboration to demonstrate that the world has expended a great deal of effort in institutionalizing death. The phenomenon of death-in-life is adequately documented and is perfectly observable anyway to those of us who do not wish to exhaust ourselves with the documents. Life itself is always more elusive. Constitutionally antagonistic to analysis, life flees that method which seeks to break it into its component parts. Life is inherently synthetic, as any student of elementary biology will attest; analysis is a particularly human phenomenon and frequently constitutes the greatest misunderstanding and abuse of reason. Yet most of our history is based on such analysis. For us, analysis always precedes synthesis; hence our current premonitions of genetic engineering. The secrets of "life" having been successfully analyzed, it now becomes the task of the scientist to attempt the next logical step, that is, synthesis. That this is a false (as well as a diabolical) reasoning seems scarcely to have occurred to anyone. If ever there was reason for intelligent and moral men to rise in furor, this is it. The error of human history lies simply in attempting repeatedly to take the kingdom of heaven by storm, to wrest from nature what is already ours if only we will permit it to develop along its natural lines. The human mania for control is misplaced; were men to control themselves, the extension of control to areas not within human scope would be unnecessary. Failing in the attempt (failing to make the attempt) to control themselves, men choose instead to control that which is exterior to them, not realizing that this is a false, potentially fatal, pursuit.
America's fundamental principle is the principle of religious liberty. Regardless of the subsequent vagaries of her development, it remains defensible to hold as true that America was founded on the religious integrity of the individual. All else is an outgrowth of this principle. Politically speaking (that is, speaking of the real, the noumenal, distribution of power in its phenomenal manifestations) America is the child not of the Enlightenment but of the Reformation. It is the testing ground for the questions posed and the answers posited by the Reformation.
Weary of analysis, of vivisection, we turn slowly toward some synthesis, some hope of unity which, in turn, grows as monstrous, as wearying as that precedent paradigm from which we sought to escape.
Once I suffered from a fear, which did not materialize. Some time later I suffered from a hope, which also did not materialize. I have lived the greater part of my life in the debris strewn between these two moments.