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Cruminess and Authenticity

a reflection by Gene Marshall

I have attempted, for two years now, to do an elegant, properly sized, organic garden. I have committed myself to work an hour or more every day to make this garden beautiful and productive. I have succeeded in growing food to an extent that has surprised me, yet this summer my disappointment with this garden came home to me.

The whole month of July and most of August was very dry and very hot. In spite of my persistent watering, every plant looked stressed. The squash bugs multiplied beyond belief and closed down all production of summer squash. Other unknown flying and crawling things made holes in almost every leaf. I became aware that I did not know how to do what my garden was asking of me. Nor did I have time to do all that I did know how to do.

This garden, large though not huge, has become demanding beyond any bounds of time I have set for it. I could spend many more hours learning what I don’t know about building rich soils. The insects who come to share with me and take more than their share of my garden also reveal to me my very great ignorance in identifying, and dealing with these creatures. Also immense is what I don’t know about seeds, and proper planting times, and proper harvest times, and watering and not watering, and growing sets, and avoiding frost damage, and so on. Instead of one hour a day, I could spend four hours a day doing something actually needed in the garden and another four hours a day studying up on what to do. I don’t have eight hours a day to spend on my garden. Nevertheless, in committing myself to my modest garden, I have committed myself to an infinite depth and breadth of demands. I cannot possibly meet these demands and still do all the other things in my life I am committed to do.

So it seems to me that I have a crummy garden, and that I am a crummy gardener. Though I have been ecstatic at times about my garden, my vision of what it could be is so vast compared to its reality, that my garden seems clearly crummy. Furthermore, it will always be crummy, because I am not going to find time to work intensively on all the imperfections I perceive.

My work in the wide world is also crummy. I have done commendable services for my continent and my planet and my region. I have begun efforts to be a competent member of my neighborhood and my community. But compared to what is needed, or what I could do about what is needed, I am doing very little and what I am doing is crummy. All my contributions to life are crummy. My most excellent contributions are still crummy. It may be that I do more than some people to be constructive and to avoid being destructive; nevertheless, all that I achieve remains crummy.

I see people who are caught up in Western culture and who take great pride in its accomplishments. I see them being haughty toward African, or Latin American or Asian cultures or primitive cultures. But I know that my Western culture is crummy. It is only one way of doing things; and, in spite of certain greatnesses, my culture is, in numerous ways, a worse way of doing things than many other cultures. Even very ancient cultures had remarkable achievements sorely lacking in my culture today. My culture, my cultural conditioning, is crummy.

I also had a crummy childhood. My parents were, I believe, doing the best they knew at the time. In many ways, I was well cared for. But my childhood also contained unnecessary hurts and neglects and shamings and foolishnesses. The first personality I built in order to survive in those circumstances worked. I survived. But as a foundation upon which to build further life, my first personality was a crummy institution. The personality elements I added in my adolescence were also crummy. Each of my adult passages added some important components, but each of them now seem crummy to me. My whole personality is crummy.

In summary, I am a crummy personality, living in a crummy culture, doing a crummy job with my garden. Indeed, I am doing a crummy job with my work, with my relationships, with all aspects and scopes of my life. I ask sometimes when I am going to arrive at a non-crummy condition. I even long for it and despair over its delayed arrival. This is the answer that has been getting clearer and clearer for me each decade of my life: I am never going to arrive at a non-crummy condition. My life will always be crummy.

I could summarize all this by simply saying that I am a finite being. But "finite" is too philosophical a word to capture the feeling of what I am talking about. My life is crummy. It will never be infinite, or perfect, or completed. My life will never arrive: it will always be crummy. Even when I have made huge improvements in my life, I have only moved from one sort of crumminess to an improved crumminess. Arriving at a post-crummy condition always eludes me.

I have, however, found this comfort. By realizing that my whole life is crummy and always will be crummy, I experience a certain detachment from all the crummy elements of my life. This detachment has made me less arrogant, more tolerant, and more willing to change. No aspect of my life is holy enough to defend forever, so I can be more flexible in giving it up and moving on to something better. Since I am crummy and always will be, I can be less judgmental of other people’s crumminess. This detachment is a valuable quality. Such detachment has a peace to it, a contentment in it, even a sort of bliss.

In fact, I have, at times, experienced full ecstasy when I have realized that my detachment from all my crumminess is the "arrival" I have always wanted.

This detachment, this liberation, this freedom is the arrival of my authentic life. This is who I am, down deep beneath all the other identifying features: I am the freedom to be detached from all my crummy features and to courageously forge new crumminess—crumminess never experienced before, crumminess that expresses better the glorious freedom and courage which I am.

This authentic "I am" is a most remarkable capacity. It is not something I have created or achieved. It is just who I am, have always been, and always will be. I am freedom—the freedom to be detached from all that I have been and to create all that I shall be next, and to go on being detached from the crummy things I will create. Living in this remarkable detachment, in this sheer freedom, I can create, again and again, my own self and contribute to the recreation of the total social world of which I am a participating member.

I have also become aware of this startling truth: if realizing that everything is crummy is the arrival of my authenticity, then insisting that I am not crummy (or will not be tomorrow) is estrangement from my authenticity. It is a veil of illusion spread over my real life. It is a withdrawal from my true greatness. It is a fall into evil effects upon all with whom I dwell. It is a fall into despair over my own fulfillment.

So let me glory in my crumminess and in the fact that I am crummy. Why should I care? I am glorious liberty—a courageous, creative being who moves through crumminess like a fish through water. By every mode of measure, I am crummy. And yet, and yet, the real me is immeasurable and completely untouched by all my crumminess.