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"it's the superpower I hold rather than the one I'm unlikely to ever possess."

I was yesterday listening to Alan Lightman's audio book In Praise of Wasting Time while mowing the lawn. He told a story from his youth about when he finally connected with a pitch in a Little League ball game. He reported that this was his first experience of power, and felt great surprise that he, a decidedly non-athletic nerd, might also be a powerful person. Later in life, he said that he looked back on that time whenever he faced daunting challenges, convinced deep down that because he had once demonstrated personal power, that he remained a powerful person at root, and so would most likely overcome whatever difficulty he faced.

I think many (if not most) of us do not carry a similar conviction.
Our life experiences have not (yet) convinced us of our power, but of our continuing, perhaps never-ending, vulnerability. We are not quite up to the challenges we face, though we still sometimes somehow manage to prevail. It seems to the rest of us that those who carry a conviction that they are powerful people almost cheat in the grand card game of life, for if one is convinced that they're up to those challenges, they hardly have any challenge to stand against. Do they? The ant who's convinced himself that he is most certainly able to lift that crumb seems a whole lot less challenged than any ant deeply questioning his ability beforehand, as a matter of course, as a simple extension of his own life experience. Those of us who lift our crumb in spite of overwhelming evidence that we're unlikely to succeed, in spite of a deep sense that we'll probably fail again, seem most powerful, though they would likely be the last ants on earth to ever claim to actually feel powerful.

I believe that the presence of power does, indeed, corrupt, though perhaps only rarely absolutely. The presence of power undermines the need to carry any faith into any matter, for the pre-existing power renders most every question moot before it's even posed. The truly self-confidently powerful don't even have to wonder why any chicken crosses any road, they don't need to answer any of the searing questions of their time. "Buzz off with your chicken questions," the powerful can respond. Their identity isn't dependent upon them ever answering any chicken questions. If they do choose to respond, they can simply assert that whatever they say is just the way it is. "Like it or lump it," they sneer.

The rest of us feel humbled in this world. We accomplish some, though never by dominion, for our challenges each hold the very real possibility that we might well fail to dominate. Our crumbs come and go and the least of them might show us up at any time. What motivates us to continue moving through such a crapshoot world? Our mastery comes in inconsistent bursts, usually surprising us most of all. We're persistent anyway, never actually knowing any way, but some days stumbling upon one. We sense how small we are, how narrow our reach, and how lame our beseeching sounds even to our own ears. Yet we persevere even though the path toward success rarely seems very clear or promising to us.

Pffffst to all those powerful people. Ditto to those who seek ever more power as a somehow necessary precondition for accomplishing anything. That immigrant mother snuck out of that Guatemalan ghetto to start a thousand mile slog toward safety not because she felt some inherently powerful superiority to her circumstances, but I suspect because she felt an ultimately unbearable vulnerability. Her experience as a refugee could have only rather quickly disqualified her as a probable success, yet she engaged anyway. She'd utterly failed to provide for herself and her child in her homeland and found herself reduced to sneaking off into the night. This might better represent how most of us make our way in this world. If you feel like you're deep down a powerful person, God Bless You. You might travel a different road than most of the rest of us ever will. I'm sticking with humbled vulnerability, as if I had any say in the matter, for it's the superpower I hold rather than the one I'm unlikely to ever possess.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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