There’s a few scenes from books that stay with me, a select few. One of them is from Benito Cereno, probably the best slave revenge fantasy since Django – and, since it was written in a benighted time when slavery was seen as borderline acceptable, a lot more courageous (though let’s take a moment here to recognize Tarantino’s courage too).
The slave leader in Benito Cereno, who’s basically inspecting every movement of Benito Cereno while he’s being held captive (unknown to the narrator), has several long scenes where he’s sharpening his knife. He brings the knife up and down on the whetstone, sharpening, sharpening, making the edge ever more cutting.
That’s me, now.
In surveying back over my life, I see many mistakes. It wasn’t supposed to be this way; but, with the time that I have left, I’ll do what I can to make things right Fundamentally, though: what was the cause?
I’d say weakness. I’m aware of the way certain personal weaknesses blew opportunities out into the void. Had I not been weak in those ways – in terms of discipline, focus, personal courage, drive – things would’ve turned out differently. I learned from experience, but as a friend used to say, experience is the teacher of fools (from Livy, stultorum eventus magister est).
So as a result, I’ve conceived the intention to right those wrongs. I can immediately draw on a deep personal well of motivation when I think of them, when I think I’ve where I am vs. where I could be.
You know the old bromide, if you could change your past, even if it meant scrambling all your old friendships, connections, etc. – would you? People often say, as much as I’ve screwed up, I’d do it all the same. Not me. I’d like to do better, even now.
I sharpen the knife; the knife is my mind, and the thing I’m wearing away, bit my bit, is those personal failings. So that’s why I’ve sacrificed for this idea of myself, and the mechanisms that bring me closer: exercise and most particularly (since it is a function of the mind), meditation.
I do this for no particular goal, besides mental perfection. I do think at times about my goals in this life, altruistic ones, essentially; but in the short term – at the end of my nose – sharpening is everything.
In the end I’m just one guy, limited, as we all are, by our faults; but to the extend that I can, to the extent that it’s in my power, to the extent that I can mold myself by my will into something greater, every day – I sharpen the knife. It’s what I do, and it trumps everything – the perfection of the self. I’d like to be perfect. It’s an alluring goal, however unattainable it may be.
At the end of Benito Cereno, the captain meets his fate: “Benito Cereno, borne on the bier, did, indeed, follow his leader.”
My goals are my leaders.
May we all follow our leaders to the best fate we can meet.
*note: this is to be understood metaphorically, with a dash of poetic license