The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

Becoming Human

images-1“No matter what mistakes and illusions have marked my life, most of it I think has been happiness and, as far as I can tell, truth.”  — Thomas Merton

January 31st commemorates the birth of mystic, writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. One thing that always amazes me about his writing is Merton’s profound honesty with regard to his “development” as a writer, a priest and human being. Excerpts from his journals are filled with as much religious certainty as they are filled with deep un-abiding doubt at one’s ability to walk a chosen path despite our flaws.

This struggle is known to all of us. We all have doubts as we battle daily shames and shortcomings. Some days we appear “perfect” — perfect parent, perfect spouse, perfect worker, perfect boss, perfect conservative or perfect liberal. But other days… not so much.

Sometimes we scream at our kids in the market and overreact at their minor infractions. On the flip side, we occasionally under-react to more bothersome behaviors. We back off and then wonder if maybe we sent the wrong message. Maybe they should be grounded for a week, we think. Maybe they deserve to miss the prom. No, no I can’t do that to them…

Now and then we fail to be present in our marriages. We ignore our hearts and behave selfishly or we sidestep difficulties instead of dealing directly with our emotions and their aftermath.

Once in a while we cut corners at work. We nurse petty grievances against our bosses, and we gossip about co-workers in the break room. If we manage people, sometimes we do so lacking compassion for their struggles putting material needs above human ones.

MertonMerton’s reflections and meditations from his journals suggest that in each of these respects, and then some, Merton failed as well. He failed at being a monk, he failed at being a priest, he failed at being a writer, he failed at being a friend to his many acquaintances in the world beyond his cloistered walls. At least that’s how he felt at times.

He writes: “… I will always be accused of inconsistencies…” And that feeling — the feeling of immeasurably falling short keeps one working. It drove him to be a better priest, monk, writer, friend and steward of the earth.

I imagine that even if Merton ever arrived at being “better” he’d most likely refuse to consider himself as being “the best”.

I imagine if someone sent him a coffee mug for his birthday, emblazoned with “World’s Greatest Monk” Merton would likely shrug it off. No doubt he’d resist seeing himself as the greatest anything.

IUnknown find his view — the fact that we are never “great” —  refreshing in a world where we all (myself included) insist that we are more than what we truly are. We demand others acknowledge how great we are. So much so we are willing to go on reality television shows, or loudly demand the attention of the room.

Our society also says only greatness has value. This is one disturbing element in the style of Donald Trump’s campaign, and even more disturbing to me is how many are attracted to the illusions embedded in his viewpoint and the rhetoric of greatness.

We forget that greatness, if it exists at all, is just an outcome. It is the final recognition of  having lived one’s life authentically. And having lived means accepting the good, the bad and the ugly of our own steps and missteps.

Merton writes: “The need for self-revision, growth, leaving behind, is a renunciation of yesterday, yet in the continuity with all other yesterdays (to cling to the past it so lose one’s identity with it, for this means clinging to what’s not there)…”

Now, I read that quote not as a repudiation and rejection of our past selves but as building awareness out of our story, the continuity of our yesterdays. Our identity, in my opinion, is formed from what we “write” in the present and on into the future and this emerges through the manner in which we recognize our past with honest fullness.

imagesWe are works in progress. We are, young and old, striving towards the only real goal that exists for us in this life: becoming human. Perhaps, when we leave this place, at the very least we can all say we were more than just mostly alive. Perhaps we can say, “I loved, I cried,  I nurtured, and I died — in short: I lived.”



Updated: February 1, 2016 — 8:26 am


  1. This is great, and yes, a good reminder that the content of our lives now and in future, is based on our actions in the past, and how we decide to handle things.


      Yes, thanks Lizzi.

  2. Great post. Love Thomas Merton. Thanks!


      As you can tell, so do I. His work and thoughts never cease to surprise me… Thanks Kitt.

  3. This is WONDERFUL “We forget that greatness, if it exists at all, is just an outcome. It is the final recognition of having lived one’s life authentically. “


      Thank you Anna. I have to admit, I kinda like that line too. Now if I can only actually do it… guess we won’t know until the end of the show…

  4. Acknowledging our path of self-growth and development, of awareness and learning from mistakes, and acceptance of those mistakes (shortcomings) makes us flexible and stronger. The rigidity of singleminded perfection as seen through one’s own eyes (the Donald) lacks dimension – human-ness. Your post is very thought provoking and uplifting as well.


      Again, Valerie, thank you. I always enjoy your comments and your insights. Sometimes I wonder, “Will anyone know what I mean?” It’s helpful to see what others think and feel in reaction to the work.

  5. This is so thoughtful and beautifully written. It’s amazing when we can have these types of insights into others – and into our selves.


      Thank you for the thoughtful comments Liv. I appreciate you taking the time.

  6. Love this. You have me curious about Thomas Merton. Sounds like an interesting man. I can’t help think how someone who’s always boasting of his greatness (like Trump) is really the opposite of greatness. True greatness is quiet and modest. Wonderful post.


      He is a very interesting individual. I highly recommend his work. Also, thank you for your kindness.

  7. Love this! My mom has mentioned Thomas Merton a few times and I’ve been really curious about him.


      I highly suggest him.

  8. Love this. I think truly wise and inspirational people always recognise that they and the world are flawed. People like Donald Trump are not wise or insightful, they are deluded and arrogant, and they will also never make any real difference in the world (at least not for good), because they don’t accurately see themselves or the world around them.
    Nelson Mandela was also a wise man: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”


      Totally agree S.M. Taking Trump for instance, rather than admit he fell short in Iowa he alleged that Cruz “stole” first place from him. Sounds like a whiny two-year old rather than someone worthy of leading a nation… As you say deluded and arrogant; two things we can suffer less of…

  9. “We forget that greatness, if it exists at all, is just an outcome. It is the final recognition of having lived one’s life authentically. And having lived means accepting the good, the bad and the ugly of our own steps and missteps.”

    LOVE all of this. Just beautiful and TRUE.


      Thank you Chris. I think the hardest part for any of us on this human journey is engaging in admission rather than omission. The risk we run in refusing to embrace all the “bad” we’ve done is to actually falsify the good strive to cultivate and maintain.

  10. Beautiful post! I’m most definitely striving to become a better version of myself each day, and to make no judgements about WHAT I am now. With judgement comes suffering, and I wholly believe as you said, “it’s simply about living authentically.” Thank you for sharing your great work! It’s always a pleasure to stop in here 🙂


      Thank you Rica. I think that is the hardest part: judgement. Judging the self, judging others, judging thoughts. It’s a fine line between exercising sound judgement and being judgmental or condemning. I keep trying though… Glad you enjoy the work, do come back.

  11. I love this profound and delightful post. That last sentence really resonates with me. 😊


      I am glad you enjoyed it and that you took the time to say so. I really appreciate it.

  12. Ah, perfection. An elusive goal. Pretty lofty one, too. I adore Merton.


      Thanks Carol. Merton truly is a wise voice without any preachy condescension.

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