This book orchestrates a theme with variations. The theme is the creation of an identity. The variations consist of talents that in my experience contribute to a desirable result—language readiness, emotional maturity, imaginative creativity, intelligent practicality, social flexibility, political tolerance, psychological balance, and physical resilience. Together they encompass capacities residing in the human organism.
I consider possible expedients to promote those capacities—diary keeping and memoir composition to unify disconnected thoughts and feelings; marathon travel in unfamiliar terrain to enhance maturity; execution of an alternative lifestyle to enrich occupation and family; two-way talk (peer exchange) to develop tolerance of personal and political differences; enlightened communication to resolve contradictions; and various strategies to forestall deterioration, such as exercise and healthy diet, good doctors and self-reliance, purposeful hobbies and stimulating activities, congenial partnerships and peaceful family relations.
All this physical and mental activity amounts to a single enterprise—creating a coherent self. Is identity abstract or tangible, an artificial construction or a daily fact? Is it composed of mass or energy? Can we unify the multiplicity of trials that plague or benefit it? No single answer is definitive. The integrity we work to achieve may only possess tentative boundaries rather than absolute values. The totality of an identity, its powers and meaning, may be beyond understanding. It may be composed of an unpredictable interaction of final and fluid events. Perhaps we can only glimpse its reality, its fragile, potent power forever shielded from our perception. But we keep trying to fathom this strange sense of self. In my estimation, I did reasonably well—not faultless or exemplary but reasonably well, with the physical and mental equipment at my command. The journey was fun. I exercised my voice. My life, like the lives of most people, featured a potpourri of honest judgments, open-minded affections, and constructive talks mixed with inadequate exchanges and stupid mistakes. My overriding concern, though not always consistent, has been to make verbal and emotional contact with other lives. The rest may be silence, but at this juncture I can look back and smile. And say thanks.