‘One always dies too soon – or too late. And yet one’s whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are… your life, and nothing else.’ — Jean-Paul Sartre, Huis-Clos
I started doing something today according to a selfish inclination in which, by instinct, I thought only of my own part. I starting making food just for myself, though I must have known I wasn’t the only one who had to eat. Later, after starting, I remembered others’ parts as well and planned to finish the right way by making more food. So why did I feel so violated – why did I feel as if I were suffering an injustice – when my original selfish inclination was exposed? Was I not as much myself in how I had acted selfishly as I was myself in what I intended to do and what I was trying to be?
Yet I considered myself misjudged. Time had conspired against me to make everything look wrong. Of course I was what I was trying to be: within my mind, I’d already rejected the bad choice midway through. It’s-not-really-me —
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
— timing, you say. If I’d been able to finish right without interruption, I could have gotten away with my own sinful self: the only thing visible would have been my doing rightly, not my starting wrongly, and the latter would have been concealed from everyone, even from myself. Instead, I was prevented from pushing my selfishness into the ‘past’ of my self. Not only had I been in the wrong, but I was caught in the act of being wrong.
I was exposed, and nothing could hide that I was not what I was trying to be, though I’d hoped that I already was what I wanted to be. And my heart chafed at such a thing.
But I learned another lesson. Avoiding bad appearances isn’t simply hypocrisy: by not disappointing people through bad appearances, you also spare them the pain of that disappointment. Cover your bases.