The Particularity of Our Lives

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Mama and H read together on a lazy Saturday morning.

Martin Buber, Jewish philosopher and theologian, says that our being reaches its highest point when we live out the particularity of our lives; meaning we all have different circumstances and that one person might perform some grand act while another lives out the truth in their own lives more quietly, more ordinarily. The list of people who will perform amazing feats of original genius are small, even smaller if we count only those history will remember. The trick is to figure out where you are and own it, live into it, accept that while you may or may not do something universally astonishing, you always have the choice to participate in greatness on your own level.

I learned this lesson quite harshly when my daughter was born. I thought my life of scholarship, political organizing, and writing was over. The demands of motherhood combined with the terrible fog of postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts made my past occupations seem far away and from another life. Then a random day came along when I looked at H. on her changing table and out of nowhere said, “You are the work”. I found that as I accepted that fact and made peace with the change in my life, I was able to more carefully pick what was of the most importance to my time and effort. This helped me be able to pick up scholarship again as well as find the time to write books and even begin my doctoral program.

Your life is no different from mine. You are already living a life of potentialities no matter where you are. When you consider the particularity of your life intentionally, you make it a powerful force of influence to others around you. Just by existing you already live a life of particularity. Don’t forget that the daily particularities are the most important work you are ever likely to do, even if you do manage to achieve greatness in the wider world.

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