Reflection 247: For once, then, …

March 26, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

This just in from 75 years ago: I am climbing the back stairs from the kitchen in the dark and, as I go, my father hails me as “Steffan, Stepanovich, Steffanovsky,” which I take as a term of endearment, though I wouldn’t have known at the time what a term of endearment was. I have no idea where it arose in my father’s experience. What I felt then, and know now, was that he was applying those exotic names to me. This from a man not given to voicing his affections, so I have clung to those vocal rhythms all these years.

Just as defeats and interruptions kindle consciousness, so do intimacies, endearments, and tender tokens of positive regard at the opposite pole of experience. What affirms us or upsets us—we remember because we are moved one way or the other. Moved in the sense of synapses being built up, forging our identities and places in the world.

The phrase, “for once, then, something,” springs to mind from Robert Frost’s poem of that name. He was describing the experience of peering into a deep well, and sensing something white gleaming beneath the surface of the water. But then a drop fell from a fern and rippled the surface, blotting out what had drawn his attention. “What was that whiteness? / Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.”

Just as that shining at the bottom of a well became part of Frost’s lifelong heritage of experience, so did “Steffan, Stepanovich, Steffanovsky” become a formative part of mine. Each of us is assembled synapse by synapse, item by item, moment by moment, experience by experience, to become the person we are today walking around in our separate worlds, interrelating, forming a world of humanity on a particular planet in space.

What if my genome had been assembled in, say, Russia? I would now speak Russian, have Russian experiences and memories, sing Russian songs, eat Russian food, and be wholly different from my historically American self. What if my genome had been assembled in Afghanistan? Tanzania? North Korea? Djibouti? My shimmering experiences would have been different, and my unique self would be other than I find myself today. My world view would be different. As each of us is different from every other person on Earth.

I here offer “for once, then, something” as a key to how we become who we are. We do not open our eyes and ears onto the world so much as into the world as we seize it and codify it in the confines of our personal histories of experience. We are assemblies of gleaming bits of hurt and wonder that stick with us because they shape our brains, sensitizing us to be on the lookout for more of the same. We make our worlds as we go, adding increasing amounts of detail to this experience and to that.

At some point, many of us stop adding to our stores of experience and become set in our outlooks and ways, products of the lives we have lived. A few others keep adding to their collections of formative experiences, their understanding expanding with age—always from the perspective of one privileged or condemned to live just such a life.

The upshot being that each of us lives in a country of his or her own making, a world apart from all others, and to reach across the spaces between us requires more skill and effort than we commonly assume. What we are able to make of our individual histories determines our fitness for survival in our unique territories and situations.

How we engage one another is up to us, how we reach out to and receive one another—with openness and anticipation in gratefulness we are both present to this moment, or fearful suspicion and hostility, perhaps leading us to shoot one another down in the street. 

The point of all this is that until we truly know ourselves, we cannot know anyone else because our hidden self gets in the way of every engagement, and we project our unique understanding of the world onto the world itself, convinced we know the world as it is, while, in truth, we only know the world as we would have it be in light of our formative experience.

That is why I have put so much of my life’s energy into writing CONSCIOUSNESS, The BOOK. I intend it as the book of you and me as we render ourselves in light of our respective experiences. If we each take responsibility for our actions as reflections of our personal histories, then we have a chance of enjoying a picnic together on the bank of the stream of experience where we meet. By claiming our sundry nuances, our “for once, then, something” moments, we appreciate the shimmering apparitions we present one to another. Which takes careful attention over an extended period of time.

The question then becomes, are we willing to take the time to get to know one another, or do we pass in the mists of everyday awareness? I invite you to check out my Website,, to explore a few of the issues I think are involved in meeting face-to-face, eye-to-eye.

Thanks for reading this far. I remain, y’rs, –Steve


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