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Caravaggio: Saint Jerome Writing (1608)
" … seek not dominion but authentic communion."

The most exceptional aspect of being human seems to be just how Unexceptional each individual seems. Many of us seem convinced that we're somehow exempt from the messier elements of The Human Condition while none of us ever actually prove to be. We each seem prey to curious vanities but also victim to puzzling inanities. We might think we're special and also feel easily wounded by even casual, uninformed criticism. The best and brightest among us seem especially cursed while the average guy, as if such a creature exists, avoids much controversy and seems to cruise through life. The price of notoriety seems to be a focused infamy as every vanity seems destined to be brought to light and eventually vilified. Most saints were martyred. Many innocents get slaughtered. The great face precisely the same fate as everyone else. Posthumous statuary settles nothing.

I wonder whether I'm good enough and no proof ever seems adequate to decide my question.
I have good days and worse ones and each seems to come less as retribution but more randomly distributed, as if hovering around some average I hope isn't representative, but probably is. The pieces I post that I'm convinced will certainly prove personal public embarrassments tend to become the most appreciated ones. (This one could be a prominent example.) Some stories that I sensed might represent my very best work produced rebuke. Maybe my judgement's faulty. Maybe not. I sense that my self doubt might prove unexceptional, but I have no way to confirm that judgement. The best I've been able to muster has been to continue muddling, as if I knew and also as if I couldn't know, to simply move as my spirit moves me, mysteriously. How utterly unexceptional of me.

I accept that I'm nobody special. I possess no unique gifts, nothing that tens of thousands don't also possess, some presenting better and some, seemingly worse. We might all be world class, which erodes the distinction. The rich and famous seem especially cursed, but it was never any different from this. The poor seem curiously blessed though few ever volunteer to exchange places with them. The high and mighty often seem flighty and detached. The low and powerless sometimes make the greatest differences. Wherever one might start, they'll end in a different place. Wherever something ends, another beginning emerges. We seem to live an infinite existence while inhabiting surprisingly fragile and finite spaces. Nothing adequately replaces anything lost.

My problem with religion has always been its innate exceptionalism, its seeming insistence upon elevating some while denigrating others: saved from sinners, masters from rank beginners, winners from losers, believers from heretics, as if anyone here was qualified to pass judgment upon anyone else, let alone themselves. This elevation of self itself seems utterly unexceptional, yet also eminently regrettable, hardly adequately humbling. I believe that we need not believe ourselves in any way superior and that such belief tends to produce inferior outcomes. Sure, I chew on the habits of my neighbors just like everyone tends to do. I sneer when I see right through their more obvious (to me!) inconsistencies as I'm certain they respond in kind, gratefully usually offline. I seek no sainthood, just decency, a radical equality insisting that I'm utterly unexceptional in my habits and practices, that almost nothing separates any of us, exceptions evidence of tiny perturbations around abiding averages. The distances separating us seem minuscule when compared with the vastnesses of the universe containing all of us. Just sayin'.

Unexceptionalism has no Pope or pastor or potentate of any sort. It's communal in nature, one to others and also others to one. Its adherents have convinced themselves that they belong and that their abiding distinction has always been that they remain unexceptional. Each seems special in this regard. They fly coach. They willingly submit to the humilities they experience, understanding that it could have been a whole lot worse and that they probably didn't really deserve any better. They live grudge-free, accepting this as their well-deserved legacy. They willingly stand upon each other's shoulders, even inviting others up while understanding that the view's not appreciably better regardless of the resulting elevation. Each holds the potential to see their own greatness while simultaneously appreciating what they've already achieved. They seek not dominion but authentic communion, vanity being their demon.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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