“And the other morning, a Sunday morning, around nine, walking back up my driveway in my churchgoing clothes, having retrieved the Sunday Globe from my mailbox, I experienced happiness so sharply I tried to factor it into its components. (1) The Christmas season was over — the presents, the parties, the ‘overshadowing’ — and that was a relief. (2) My wife and I had just made love, successfully all around, which at my age occasions some self-congratulation. (3) It was a perfect winter day, windless, with fresh snow heaped along the driveway by the plow and a cobalt-blue sky precisely fitted against the dormered roof-line of my house. I admired this blank blue sky…
Even toward myself, as my own life’s careful manager and promoter, I feel a touch of disdain. Precociously conscious of the precious, inexplicable burden of selfhood, I have steered my unique little craft carefully, at the same time doubting that carefulness is the most sublime virtue. He that gains his life shall lose it.
In this interim of gaining and losing, it clears the air to disbelieve in death and to believe that the world was created to be praised. But I inherited a skeptical temperament. My father believed in science and my mother in nature. She looked and still looks to the plants and the animals for orientation, and I have absorbed the belief that when in doubt we should behave, if not like monkeys, like ‘savages’ — that our instincts and appetites are better guides, for a healthy life, than the advice of other human beings. People are fun, but not quite serious or trustworthy in the way that nature is. We feel safe, huddled within human institutions — churches, banks, madrigal groups — but these concoctions melt away at the basic moments. The self’s responsibility, then, is to achieve rapport if not rapture with the giant, cosmic other: to appreciate, let’s say, the walk back from the mailbox.”
John Updike, writing in the concluding paragraphs of his memoir Self-Consciousness.
More from Updike:
- On making peace with our past selves
- On why he was a Christian
- On why, despite tragedy, he believed the world to be good