When I was a child, I was terrible at reading. I took forever to read even the simplest books. I skimmed paragraphs and skipped pages. I wandered off into fantasy and returned to reread, sometimes repeatedly, not just paragraphs, but whole pages. I got bored in the first chapter and chucked the book over for some new cover, some clever title that struck my fancy. I was terrible at reading, but I don’t think I was a terrible reader. I didn’t love reading back then, not like I do today, but I loved the idea of being a reader. I loved the idea of books.
I love books now. I love reading them. I’m still not great at reading. I can’t read quickly, and I don’t retain more than one, maybe two, solid ideas from each new source. For me, reading is like pouring an ocean into a shot glass. Even after ignoring the vast waste that doesn’t fit in the glass, I don’t take it down in one gulp. I sip it. I pour the ocean over my little shot glass, and when the waves seep back to their source, I sip what’s left. I miss the ocean, and I sip what I can fit in my glass.
Even still, I am a reader, and I always have been. I have always known that my passion falls to words and expression, and regardless of my lack of skill, or in the face of misassumptions about my abilities, my identity is tied to words.
I may never learn how to read well, or comprehend, or remember, but those failures will never diminish the role of written language in my life. Practicing didn’t transform me into a writer. Practice never made perfect, but practicing was my perfect activity.
Love; it was always about love. I am a mother because I love my children, and that love supersedes DNA. I am a wife, because I have bound my passions to one man, and I love him alone. In our love, I become his other, his wife. I am a Christian because Christ has loved me, and he has poured his love into my little container, and I sip it.
My love has grown from small seeds into a complex root-system, but it has never changed from one substance to another. Every moment I chose to read, I was a reader. Every moment I chose to write, I was a writer. Every moment I chose to love, inclusive of all subjects, was the end in itself.
I often hear we should be working smarter, not harder; we should find what we’re good at and do it; maximize our skill sets. We care a lot about results, and we hurry through the means to reach the ends. When I look back through my life, I don’t see means. A close friend recently asked me how I looked at some of my first-fruits of writing, and I responded, “That was just practice.”
I lied. There is no such thing as practice. There is repetition, absolutely, but there is no such thing as practice. What I wrote, I wrote to write. I wrote it, so that I could write it; not so it would be written, and not so I could be better at writing something else. I wrote it for the purpose of writing it.
We do everything like this, whether we accept it or not. It’s a sleight of hand we play on ourselves to believe anything else. When I cut someone off in traffic, or eat an extra chocolate, or write a thank you, or do Pilates: I am doing it to do it. In that moment, I am doing it to do it. I might tell myself I exercise for health or vanity, but I do it because, in that moment, I love the idea of it. I cut someone off in traffic because, in that moment, I love the idea of being the most important car on the road.
I think we only ever inhabit, and only ever can inhabit, a single moment at a time. Each second, each breath, is in itself one whole year, or one whole century. It is one complete body of time; and each moment is its own end. Each moment is complete in its story arc. Each moment is a lifetime.
We can inhabit these lifetimes. We can become aware of them, and inhale them to the fullest of their vitality. It’s so simple, and so difficult, because we just have to want to be alive for them. There is no such thing as coasting. While we live, each moment counts. Every breath we take from the air around us into our lungs is another moment we are alive. While we live, we are always impacting ourselves, and each other, and the trajectory of our world.
CS Lewis once wrote that, “The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.” While awake, while aware, we are in constant activity. Our thoughts, our words, our deeds are always in motion. We follow even our basest passions down whatever road they lead us, and we rise above them when we find stronger passions.
What is the consummation of your activities? What does the culmination and union of your passions look like? For in this very second, you are already living for it, whether or not you’ve yet named it. Your next breath is another lifetime pursuing it. You are what you love.
Practice doesn’t make perfect, but passion perfects endurance. The end can’t justify the means, and the means don’t negate the ends, because they are the same substance. It is one, and it is fueled by our passion. Passion, a word born from suffering, pushes us from toil to toil, teaching us that our work isn’t to reach an Elysian field, but just to take each step. Each step is the journey. Each step is the paradise.