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.