“Ego becomes dominant when your personal agenda is small. You become self-conscious and competitive because it’s what you think you need to do in order to survive. When your little boat gets caught up on a wave that’s bigger than you are, ego drops away.” — Sister Helen Prejean, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
When I was a young woman, I became intimately acquainted with the power of desire thanks to, of all people, Richard Milhouse Nixon. It was August, 1974. The Watergate Hearings. I had spent an entire day glued to the TV watching the Grim Reaper suck the life from Nixon’s waxen, withered form. My usual array of unbridled emotions was noticeably absent. Not only was I uncharacteristically detached, I was fascinated.
My preoccupation had nothing to do with wanting the answers to the questions that were on everyone’s lips. “Did he know … request … authorize …” did not even enter my mind. What intrigued me was that he was a man who had ardently dogged and realized his heart’s desire, then allowed it to rise up and destroy him. Which was the greater crime, I wondered; that he betrayed his country or that he betrayed his soul? I meticulously searched his face for something — anything! — that would tell me what I wanted to know.
That night I lay awake thinking about the times when my own longing had been so voracious that I tottered on that same razor’s edge. I asked myself am I, too, that vulnerable where my own heart’s desires were concerned? Where does yearning leave off and obsession begin? At what point does passion become reckless abandon?
History impersonally recorded the life and deeds of Richard Milhouse Nixon. But to this day I am unable to look at his face or hear his name without thinking of the power of my own untamed desire.