On Self-Respect

You’ve got you. That’s it. Everything else is extra.

About a year ago I kept repeating this to myself, a mantra of sorts. I was having quite a hard time of things then — I was suddenly very sick and dealing with it alone and couldn’t understand why. You’ve got you. That’s it. Everything else is extra. I repeated it to myself a year before that, on the resigned end of a blazing love affair, and even some months before that, when my grandmother passed.

Why I should have intuited so long ago that the answer to hardship lay in something as plain as self-respect I do not know. I do know it’s the only prayer that has ever given me even a measure of peace, probably because I can drum up no defense against it. It was — it is — unassailably true. It has nothing to do with totem powers or magic thinking, nothing to do with what is or is not “right,” nothing at all to do with the appearance of things. It has only to do with what I know, without doubt, to be real.

This year has changed me profoundly — it has found me in strange beds, ambivalent conversations, and trouble in general — and I wonder what resemblance I bear to the girl who whispered those words to steel herself against the pain in her joints, in her heart. The best way to quantify it may be to observe that I don’t whisper to myself anymore. Perhaps I’ve internalized the lesson. You’ve got you, that’s it…

Looking back, I see that what made those words necessary for me was a (totally deluded) gut certainty that I was owed, at the very least, health, happiness, love and lively company… Which is very different, by the way, than saying I believed I deserved those things.

Deserving has to do with understanding one’s implicit value — and that is the key to everything. It is at the heart of all I’ve been thinking on tonight, and it is the only source of power and prayer I care to summon.

Being owed, on the other hand, assumes an explicit contract, a sun-shiny confidence that the world works in our favor, that our worst will not be found out, that the lights will always turn green. Perhaps they always will. But the world does not owe us even the air in our lungs. And it respects no contracts, no matter how we try to seal them.

I think knowing this must be the real gift of self-respect, of finally “growing up,” if we ever do. I am not there just yet, but I’m starting to know the way. And I’m starting to know the difference between kisses and contracts, between disappointments and personal failures, and I’m beginning to know the price of things.

This year has bought me the courage of my mistakes, of which there have been plenty. I intend to make many more besides. Mistakes are fun. The lessons are harder. Harder, and maybe sweeter.

9 thoughts on “On Self-Respect

  1. John Mears says:

    You’ve got you, and that’s it, but the good news is that the “you” that you are happens to be infinitely multidimensional and ultimately eternal, with the same spiritual DNA as God and Buddha — and every human body is made of stardust.

  2. Rachel (Alive in the Fire) says:

    There are so many parts of this that resonate with me. In me. Perhaps we have had some of the same internal struggles in the past year. Good for you for witnessing what you’re capable of – your own strength – for it’s always been there, and it will continue to be.




  3. Reed Webb says:

    This is very fine writing. It shows an exceptional ability to put feelings into words, and that is not an easy thing to do. My take on your essay was that it says that you only have control over your own thoughts and feelings and that it is sometimes a real struggle to accomplish even this. Everything else, you don’t control, you can only hope to have an influence on — and be assured that with your excellent writing, you do.

  4. Muslim Hippie says:

    You’ve got you and you are amazing. I come here almost every day, not for your words (although it’s an awesome treat to find them) but it’s my way of remembering you. My girls recognize your page from my frequent stops, they’re 3 and 5.

  5. Angela Mears says:

    MH – Your touching, beautiful note was the first thing I read this morning. I wish I could tell you what a gift that was.

    Reed – That’s an excellent read, and a new take on the subject — one I hadn’t explicitly explored when I was writing it. What you say is true, of course. Though I doubt my influence.

  6. Surbhi Sanchali Gupta says:

    Angela, I have been reading your words for a while now; and have never been able to surmount enough courage to let my own flawed, lacking words follow yours. Yours give me hope. The other day i found myself passing over a previously favored greasy meal in favor of a much lighter one whilst thinking “hunger is better” and thought of you. I will not be bold enough to say I understand, but will say that I empathize. Your words almost always leave me filled with sadness, yet somehow with an aftertaste of hope. You are unique, please know that. I hope the world treats you better, and so does your conscience. It is the most exacting mistress of the human soul, I have found.

  7. kyrias (@kyrias) says:

    I hope to read more of your words, as they have touched me and awakened me, not only for myself, but I have this absurd assumption that if you are happier, more comfortable within your skin, you will grace us with more of your words. Poignant, thoughtful, and sharp — I carry them, re-read, and remember more of who I am because of them. I wish you the very best.

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