MY ‘LESSER’ VERSIONS: The Ill, the Weak And The Mortal,
Or, In Search of True Personhood
All my life I have been surrounded by family members, suffering with one of the forms of dementia and psychiatric disorders. Rare is the time that I meet someone who doesn’t have a loved one likewise. I hope this blogpost by Father Seraphim Aldea can be of some help, even for a brief moment. May God’s love and strength protect us all …
I have seen people die. I have seen people suffer. I have seen the anguish in their eyes. Most times, it comes from a combination of fear of the weak beings they have become, and regret for the strong being they once were. Fear of turning into something we no longer recognise as ourselves, and regret for losing something we perceived as our ‘correct’ selves.
We only think of ourselves as ‘whole’ when we fit into a wellness norm fed by the idolatric attitude we have for the society we are part of. This society – here and now – tells me that I am all right when I am healthy; therefore, I am my ‘proper’ version, I am my ‘correct’ self, I am who I am supposed to be only when I am healthy. This society tells me that illness and sadness and all forms of weakness are wrong; therefore, I am no longer my ‘proper’ version when I am ill – my ‘correct’ self has become corrupted, infested, compromised.
But society changes its mind, because it is empty, devoid of meaning, and – like any form without substance – it takes in whatever substance fits its purpose. To be healthy once meant to be chubby and live the sort of life that gave you gout. To be your true self meant at different times to die young, to suffer from melancholia, and to kill yourself in the name of honour. Things have changed. Today (and mostly here, in the West), we worship the healthy, strong, optimist being. Anything else is not properly human.
The implications are the same, though: only when we fit these norms we think of ourselves as being ‘ourselves’. Whatever does not fit these norms is not part of us, it is us being ‘someone else’, a lesser version of myself, an amputated, decayed version of myself, which either has lost things proper to my true self (‘I cannot move anymore’) or has taken over and incorporated things that are alien to my true self, things from the outside, things that entered my true self and diseased it (illness; sadness; death).
We have this perfect version of who we are supposed to be, and we define our happiness depending on the level of conformity to that ideal. We replace the living being that we are – changing, evolving and discovering oneself from all perspectives, including the ‘negative’ ones (illness; old age) – with the immobile poster-like image of the ‘healthy young man’. There is not much difference in essence between the tyranny of this healthy young idol and other tyrannies we have seen in the recent past: the arian man of the second world war, the new man of communism, the jihad man of terrorism. They all want to eradicate what they perceive as corrupted, lesser versions of humanity.
In some way, the tyranny of our idol is even more violent, because we not only enforce it upon others, but we internalise it and we end up inflicting it upon ourselves. A Nazi criminal could never become a Jew himself; his idol never reflected its hatred against himself. We, on the other hand, we all shall as some point feel weak, we all shall get sick, we all shall become old and face the reality of our mortality. To shy away from these ‘lesser’ versions of ourselves, to reject and to fight against them is to reject and fight against ourselves. To run away from them is to run away from myself. To fear and hate them is to fear and hate myself.
Source: The Mull Monastery Blog