When I woke up this morning, I experienced an epiphany (with a small letter “e”). Now usually, I would write, “When I woke up this morning, I suffered an epiphany,” because epiphanies, at least in my life, are things to be suffered rather than enjoyed. Or at best, they can be endured, which is kind of like suffering except enduring presumably has an end, and if you endure, you make it to that end without suffering too much.
An epiphany is defined as a “sudden intuitive perception or insight” in the paperback dictionary published by Mrs. Merriam and Mr. Webster (who I believe spend a lot of time together publishing happily and other stuff) that I dug out of the dumpster behind Walgreens, which, although stripped of its cover (which was sent back to the happy couple as proof of non-sales, which is something Mrs. Walgreens, a very unhappily married woman and, it is rumored, quite envious of the Merriam-Websters, does at every opportunity to claim a credit for her $6.50), um, where was I . . .?
Oh yes. This paperback dictionary, even with the front cover stripped off, still contains more than 75,000 easy-to-understand concise definitions, and is replete with usage guidance, word origins, and more than 5,000 usage examples, and (as if this were not enough to justify dumpster-diving, if not an outright purchase of the book) includes up-to-date coverage of new words like identity theft (actually two new words for the price of one), webcam (a new word not even recognized by the apparently less-than-up-to-date spell checker on my computer – which also doesn’t recognize “Walgreens” as a word and stubbornly insists on underlining it with a wavy red line in spite of the fact that it is capitalized as a proper noun, no matter how many times I retype it), outsource, and props (both of these apparently being unheard-of newfangled words as late as 2004, when Mary Merriam and Dennis Webster published this excellent reference and resource book, which has sold over 45 million, or so the back cover (which is still intact) boasts.
Well, they didn’t sell this one, so I’m eager to see if the Merriam-Websters are honest enough to say on the next paperback version of their dictionary (perfect for home, school, or office) that over 44,999,999 have been sold, and if not, then perhaps Mrs. Walgreens’ dislike for the happy couple isn’t envy at all, but an absolutely well-deserved loathing of their flagrant and blatant dishonesty.
To me, sudden intuitive perceptions or insights are always bothersome, and often require some sort of soul-searching, hand-wringing, breast-beating, heart-breaking self-examination. At least in my own personal experience. I assume this is not the same for everyone. I can imagine that one day a German guy with perpetually fuzzy white hair named Einstein woke up with a sudden intuitive perception or insight that turned out to be the Theory of Relatives, which I believe is the idea that you really don’t have to spend time with any of those odd people you are related to by marriage if you don’t like them, and so founded a chain of coffee-and-bagel shops where you can go instead to talk to people who really interest you. It could happen, and good for Larry Einstein, but in my experience, epiphanies are almost always something I want to avoid like the plaque.
Usually these sudden intuitive perceptions or insights go something like: you are a stubborn, impatient, workaholic, good to no one and good for nothing. To which I usually reply, “So?” Then it occurs to me (also quite suddenly, intuitively, perceptively, and insightfully) that this is what nearly everyone says about me (and not quietly behind my back or even tactfully to my face either), so then I reply, “So?”
That’s when my conscience kicks in, a very active, overworked, frustrated, and exhausted organ somewhere between my big toe and whatever that toe is called next to the big toe, and I start feeling bad about myself, which is always a bad feeling. Happily, feeling bad about yourself is only a short step away from feeling bad for yourself, so I can usually travel from the theological concept of guilt to the self-centered concept of self-pity, which is always a good feeling, in no time at all.
People, normally (or so I read) always grovel in self-pity, or they find themselves mired in self-pity, or they flounder in self-pity, or they wallow in self-pity (making me wonder if pigs and hippopotami, which are the only animals I know that wallow, are self-pitying creatures, and if they are, it is, of course, completely understandable, but I doubt it because they seem so well-adjusted to their world of mud, muck, and wallow). Anyway, instead of groveling or miring or floundering or wallowing, I tend to luxuriate in self-pity. And why not? There is hardly any other experience outside of self-pity in which a person can be so wholly self-absorbed.
Self pity is also very versatile. You can pity yourself for a minute or an hour or for several hours, or even days. You can’t pity yourself for months, however, as by then self-pity has transformed somehow into depression, another delightful experience, but different. The bad thing about self-pity is that it gets you the attention of people you dislike immensely, you know, the ones who sincerely believe they have a divine calling to make the world a happy place (and to be a happy place, everyone in the world must be happy), and so, seeing your pitiful demeanor and pained expressions, and hearing your audible sighs, and noting the way you curl up on the floor in a fetal position under the sink, they will begin by asking, “Is there anything wrong?” And with that brilliant question, they attempt to cheer you up.
They try to get you to tell them what it is that is bothering you, the very thing you least wish to be reminded of, much less talk about. “Nothing,” you say, but the self-pitying tone gives you away. Here is where it is your own fault. Instead of talking to these do-gooders, you should crawl out from under the sink, and slink away to the closet without saying a word. In my experience, although they will think you rude, it is unlikely they will follow you into a dark closet, because they cannot know if you are just a little bit self-pitying or some sort of dangerous psychotic, delusional cannibal. But if you make the mistake of answering their question, “Is there anything wrong?” they will marshal a million-billion follow-up questions to determine exactly what it is that is bothering you in order to solve your problem and heal your heart with their milk of human kindness and superior wisdom. Or, they’ll tell you about a billion-million times when they felt bad, and what they did to pull themselves out of it, being much brighter and stronger than you are. Or, they’ll talk about their friends who felt bad, and whose spirits they lifted by talking it all out, using their milk of human kindness, superior wisdom, strength, and brightness.
Or, and this is the worst of it, they’ll try to tell you jokes. Lame jokes. Jokes which are decidedly unfunny, even to someone who isn’t self-pitying and borderline depressed. Jokes off the back panels of cereal boxes from the 1950’s. Jokes from the tiny unreadable comic strips in Double Bubble Bubble Gum. Jokes one of their children brought home from Kindergarten recently. The kind of jokes the President of the United States tries to tell when he tries his hand at levity. Jokes that make you run from the room screaming, with your hands clapped over your ears and a wild look in your eyes, proving, naturally, that you are a dangerous psychotic, delusional cannibal, just as they thought all these years.
This is why epiphanies, in my experience at least, are always to be suffered. This morning’s epiphany (small letter “e”), however, was one I enjoyed, but I’ll have to tell you about that in the next essay, because I’ve run out of room in this one. 🙂