The other night I dreamt that I had to pee but the toilet bowl was filled with colorful plastic toys. The image was perfect. I’d just spent a week managing the behavior of three rambunctious cousins, trying to get them to pick up and not exclude each other and eat with their forks and please-please-please give the adults some mental space. Even the bathroom, that last bastion of privacy, had been messed with. I could get no relief.
We were in New York so one afternoon we took the kids on the Circle Line around Manhattan. With the kids lobbying for hotdogs in the foreground and skyscrapers vying for airspace in the background—including the new multimillion-dollar high-rises towering over Central Park that are the outrageously and illicitly wealthy’s latest way to hide money—I couldn’t help wondering about humanity’s basic propensity to covet, and then follow greed into evil. So much of parenting is simply teaching the kids first to stop putting toys in the toilet, then to understand why, then to take responsibility for their actions. At one point, my father gave the cousins a here-is-the-legacy-I-want-to-pass-on lecture: “Be kind. That’s it. Just be kind.”
For years I’ve dismissed the idea of original sin. I don’t believe we’re born evil and think the notion itself is damaging. Matthew Fox taught me about original blessing, that our fundamental nature is instead holy, and this belief has proven fruitful. But daily I struggle with the conundrum of my own selfishness, my inclination to lose my temper with the kids and despair over the rise of authoritarianism in America and lust after other writers’ successes. So I’ve constructed the idea of original brokenness: We’re blessed but broken, and our journey through life is toward a wholeness that encompasses our cracks. We’re kinsugi pottery, our beauty brought forth when we seal the cracks with gold.
This last week, though, I began to see the human journey more plainly as growing up. We’re born with original immaturity. Kids throw toys in the toilet. Our task is to develop into our fullest, flourishing, interconnected Self, the seed of which exists from the start but can never flourish in the small, grasping, individualistic self. A moral life—a kind life—isn’t about being good. It’s about growing up. It’s about changing. It’s about making an effort. The difference between the kids and the Trumps of the world is that at least the kids are trying.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew