Embrace of a Woman

Conceptually at least, St. Augustine’s Confessions VI: 11 is something I could have written about a number of periods in my life, and extending much later than his age 30:

I remembered how long it was since that nineteenth year of my age in which I first felt the passion for true knowledge and resolved that when I found it I would give up all the empty hopes and lying follies of vain desires.  And here I was going on for thirty, still sticking in the same mire, greedy for the enjoyment of things present though they ever eluded me and wasted my soul; and at every moment saying: “Tomorrow I shall find it; it will be all quite clear and I shall grasp it…. But where shall I search? When shall I search? …. I am myself too busy to read… I must appoint set times, set apart certain hours for the health of my soul. A great hope has dawned: the Catholic faith does not teach the things I thought and vainly accused it of…. Do I hesitate to knock, that other truths may be opened? But perish all this. Let me dismiss this vanity and emptiness, and give myself wholly to the search for truth. Life is a poor thing. Death may come at any time — if it were to come upon me suddenly, in what state would I depart this life?  Yet stay a moment.  After all, these worldly things are pleasant, they have their own charm and it is  no small charm. The mind is not easily cut off from them merely because it would be base to go back to them.” From day to day I postponed life in You, but I did not postpone the death that daily I was dying in myself. I was in love with the idea of happiness, yet I feared it where it was, and fled away from it in my search for it. The plain truth is that I thought I should be impossibly miserable if I had to forego the embrace of a woman.

In my case, the “embrace of a woman” is part of a package of temptations, which also included alcohol, entertainment and even intellectual pursuits. But, above it all, reigned a refusal of commitment, a reluctance to be pinned down, as if it was in lack of definition that I defined myself — I was “above it all.” So, for example, I even needed to refuse the sensual commitment to Suzanne, as I refused that to every other partner or friend or job or role in life. I have sometimes complained that, as a child, I was denied the right to self-definition, but, as an adult, I refused myself that right. I can discern some lack of self-confidence behind this; but it translated consistently as a betrayal of myself and anyone who depended on me. It also translated as remoteness, indifference, arrogance, withdrawal and a refusal of those precious values I have been struggling to embody in only these last three years — surrender and humility — which I now see as absolutely fundamental.

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