Bovary Moments

I’ve started this post three different times in three different ways. I’ve been trying to think of something to write all day. I was going to write about the meaning of success, the pursuit of excellence, and the importance of being good enough. I was going to write about a book that I’m reading and the moderate depression that it’s thrown me into. And I was going to write (yet again) about how sometimes I still feel like I’m always going to be alone… and sometimes want to be… both of those have something to do with the book I’m reading. The book is Madame Bovary and it’s pretty much making me hate women. The entire book is about a spoiled, selfish, flighty woman who doesn’t know what she wants, doesn’t know what she has, and hurts everyone around here (especially her husband and daughter) because of it.

My body isn’t what it used to be. Well… I shouldn’t actually say that because I’m probably pretty close to the best shape of my life. I think last year was probably the best shape of my life, which is kind of sad. Still, I hiked about eight miles today and by the time I got home both my hips and my knees felt like they were going to give out. I really needed the hike though. It gave me time to think, and enough perspective to realize that, all to often, I am Bovary. I can be a moody bastard, and all too often I’m selfish and don’t think about others in the pursuit of whatever fancy takes me. I truly hope that I’m not as bad as Madame Bovary is in the novel, but I’m certainly no saint.

I tend to be prone to extremes. I was once about two days worth of sharpening away from cutting out my eyes with a sharp, sterilized spoon. I had a roommate at the time that inadvertently talked me out of that (thankfully). I’ve also given actual consideration to making myself a eunuch, and before I converted I made multiple suicide attempts. I liked to walk in front of cars on highways… only God knows how many accidents I caused. Needless to say, this very Bovarylike behavior is not the extent of my similarities with this fictional slattern for whom I am filled with loathing.

In my extremes I tend to flip back and forth between believing that only the best passes muster, and saying ‘fuck excellence! I just want to be good enough’. I will say that I don’t think we give enough credit to good enough. The vast majority of us never reach good enough in much of what we do, and it’s certainly evident that, in our quest for excellence, we as a nation have abysmally failed to reach good enough in many areas, welfare and education two of the most outstanding.

That being said, as long as the quest for excellence doesn’t end in a failure to be good enough, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Madame Bovary certainly doesn’t seem to seek excellence in anything she does. She isn’t even a very good adulteress, the one thing that she seems moderately passionate about in the novel. All to often we too set down our quest for excellence and settle for less than mediocre standards… of course, I deal daily with students do don’t actually manage to meet those less than mediocre standards… so I might be a bit jaded.

Then again, I have to say that one of the things that I love about my job is seeing a student start off the class with Ds and end it getting Bs and As. This is an excellent feeling. All to often few and far between, but a truly excellent feeling. Nonetheless, I feel like I’m failing the students who don’t improve. Some of them I probably am, but some of them I do my very best to help and they reject it at every possible opportunity. Some people seem to aim for sub-mediocre intentionally.

The thing is, sometimes I wonder if I’m not one of those people. I’m not particularly ambitious, and I don’t have a whole lot of pride left… though that’s something that God’s been systematically drilling out of me for a long time now. I’ve had many people tell me that they see great potential in me, and I have to wonder if I’m failing to live up to it.

Then I look at my friends, who consistently tell me that I’m a pretty amazing guy, a great teacher, a good friend, and that any woman would be lucky to have me. I’m not sure how much of this is simply friends telling me what they think I need to hear, and how much of it is honest, critical assessment. Still, there seems to be something to it.

I’m always hesitant to say anything positive about myself because I’m afraid that I’ll come off as prideful. All to often, I can’t tell the difference between pride and confidence, and I think that these are two of the easiest attitudes to confuse, both in yourself and in others. I haven’t managed to catch my post count up to the number of followers… which is still a mild source of annoyance to me, but I’m dealing with it. It makes me think that people find value in what I say… which I still don’t understand.

Here’s the thing that I’m consistently failing to do. I’ve said it before: In Romans 12 God tells us to see ourselves ‘rightly’. Throughout scripture he tells us to judge ourselves by his measure, which means two things: 1) to understand that I am in every way a sinner, fully deserving of eternity in hell, and 2) that when God looks at me, he not only sees someone of value, but someone who is filled with his son. I’m still struggling with to reconcile these concepts of myself.

I find this task equally as difficult as reconciling within myself both Christ’s extreme desire to see people follow him, and his extreme willingness to drive them away if they didn’t measure up to his rather harsh standards. In both tasks I tend to be able to do one or the other, but I can’t manage both simultaneously. Maybe someday…

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